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Friday, July 05, 2013

Helping a Brother Out: Man of Steel

I think that Zach Snyder falls out of the normal human range for the detection of what looks/seems goofy. Should he be ridiculed and excoriated for this? Should we not extend a helping hand to a brother in need? We should.

So, Zach. Here are some tips.

1. The Dildo Express to the Phantom Zone—Diagnosis: Goofy Looking. It was this that alerted me to the severity of Mr. Snyder's need.

2. Ubiquitous Russell Crowe in Space Jammies—Diagnosis: Goofy Looking. This is followed closely on its heels by Russell Crowe, Obstetrician, but that's Conceptually Goofy. We'll get to that. But while we're here, let's also mention Jor-El's Avatar-asauras or whatever the hell that was.  

3. Space politicians wearing standing rib roast hats—Diagnosis: Goofy Looking with a side of empathy for your Zod-led rebels. No one with a shred of dignity would consent to government by those hats. 

Let's move on to conceptually goofy, though, mostly because I can't find a picture of Supes wrestling one of the cleaning Robots from Wall-E like he's Bela Lugosi in Bride of the Monster. 

4. Have you tried having Richard Schiff jiggle it? Hot on the heels of poor Amy Adams having to declare "It's supposed to go all the way in." 

5. Superman plopping Lois in a crater and saying "You'll be safe here." And Lois neglecting to tell Supes, "Oh, hey, your dad violated my cognitive integrity and told me how to destroy the ship." 

And never forget, Zach: Every. Single. Thing. about Night Owl is goofy. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sicily Sizzling

Against my better judgment, I just re-read this post about Chicago Opera Theatre's production of Béatrice et Bénédict. (Against better judgment, because I hate my own pompous ass.)

Though, I am surely as much an ass as Dogberry, I think Joss Whedon has, as usual, just said what I was trying to say with his Much Ado About Nothing. It IS all about the hotness of Beatrice and Benedick. Of course it is of course it is of course it is of course it is.

But it can't be without the whole story. It can't be without Hero and Claudio. It can't be without Don John and Leonato. It can't be without the whole canvas being crowded with fools.

There was very little chance that I was not going to love this movie. I almost wish that weren't true before hand because I really loved this movie, and I feel like I landed so far beyond that foregone conclusion that I don't have words for it. Which will not stop me from going on and on and on and on. See above, re: I AM AN ASS.

I love the hand-held camera work and the way the shots constantly shift and play with perspective. It's a play about presupposition and stubborn entrenchment in what each character thinks he or she is sure of. It's about scrutiny and surveillance and the way love is intimate and personal and doesn't mean a thing until it plays out in the public eye. And the public eye doesn't know a thing about what love really is.

I love that it's unabashedly silly. That everyone is a fool at one moment or another, in word and deed and often both. I love that it's unapologetically smart, streaking past some of the best one liners without lingering.  It's something I'll want to see again and again and I don't think I'll ever feel like I haven't laughed at and loved something new.

I LOVE THE CAST. Is that worth saying, given how much I love the Whedonverse? I think it is. I did not love Fred in Angel. I really, really did not love Fred. At all.  And after Wesley kept a woman ball-gagged in a cage, it was really hard for me to care about him as he persisted in not being trapped under something heavy.

And though comparisons are odious, let's face it: My Beatrice and Benedick are Branagh and Thompson. They probably still are. But I loved Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof. I loved, loved, loved them in a way that I couldn't have without Joss telling his version of the whole story and making it. All. About. Them. They're ridiculous and smart and so, so, so ridiculously desirable and made for one another and seeing that all framed—literally and figuratively—by Joss's beautiful mind.

I'm not going to gush about everyone else that everyone knows I love. (Except to say that Nathan Fillion, Tom Lenk, and Tom Lenk's manly mustache NEED A SERIES.)

But Reed Diamond? Spencer Treat Clark? I RESENT NOT KNOWING THAT I LOVED YOU UNTIL NOW. Ditto Riki Lindhome. Clark Gregg. Well. Thank Ba'al that Coulson lives. It's unbelievable that he picked up the role of Leonato so late.

And I cannot even believe that Fran Kranz was both Shaggy in Cabin in the Woods (yes, I'm aware he had some other name—it's a pop culture metaphor, youngling) and possibly the only even remotely sympathetic Claudio?

Ok, that's not fair to Robert Sean Leonard. Well, yes it is. RSL is a really good Claudio. A truly odious Claudio. But this . . . I mean, I'd still push his impressionable ass down that picturesque stone-terraced hill, but Fran Kranz's Claudio is eerily familiar and interesting. I feel like I know him and thanks ever so, Joss, for making sure that there's something in everything you've ever made that will prevent me from sleeping at night.

With all due deference to the late, great Roger Ebert, I loved, loved LOVED this movie.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Unseen Ambition: City and the City at Lifeline Theatre

When initially announced, Lifeline Theatre's  2012–2013 season seemed to have been ripped from the headlines of the diary where I record deepest Theater Nerd Desires: Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White; Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds; and China Miéville's The City and the City. 

We saw WiW in the fall and it was SPLENDID. The spousal unit, who is disinclined to take my reading recommendations, had to agree that Marian is one of the greatest heroines (and the direct ancestress of Gail Carriger's Alexia Tarabotti, whom he loves) and Fosco  one of the greatest villains in all literature.

Later last year came the announcement that they would not be doing Bridge of Birds this year (although I believe they have it on tap for next year), but they subbed in The Three Musketeers. So what's important here is that they have not strayed from my deepest Theater Nerd Desires.

But that's not why I brought you here. I brought you here, because did you catch how I slipped in "China Miéville's The City and the City"? And did you say to yourself: Madman say wut? Because that should be unadaptable, right?


We saw it this afternoon and it's far more successful than I imagined it could be. Joe Schermoly's set is a simple set of doors fronted by two wide steps with a set of uniform windows above. Otherwise, the scene is suggested by a few pieces of furniture and the costuming (Izumi Inaba) and movement direction (Amanda Link) of the cast as they move through Besźel and Ul Quoma, two cities occupying the same time and space, each politically required to remain "unseen" by the denizens of the other. Brandon Wardell's "nothing up my sleeve" lighting design primarily employs the visible street lamps, while still managing to shift scenes fluidly between the main character's narration and the action unfolding around him. Christopher Kriz's inobtrusive music and sound design also serve the adaptation well.

And Christopher M. Walsh's adaptation is so impressive, given the novel. The novel is nothing short of amazing, but like everything of Miéville's, not exactly straightforward. Walsh translates concept, plot, and character to the stage in a 2-hour production that necessarily simplifies the text, but nothing about it is flat or wanting.

Early on, there's some needful exposition through dialogue, but it is economically confined to interactions with a pair of foreigners who are understandably confused by the fundamental existential differences in this part of the world (c.f. any given episode of CSI or Bones, which squanders easily 38 minutes of every 42-minute episode with main characters [WRONGLY] explaining things to other main characters when it is shit every character ought to know). The main characters, when speaking to foreigners, shift into generic "Eastern European" accents and back out again when conversing with other "natives." (As someone who works on ethnicity and boundary guarding, really, the residents of each city ought to sound accented to one another, however, close their languages are in reality . . . but I quibble because I can and because I love.) It also takes the production a little time to really capitalize on Miéville's humor, but hits all the  right notes once it does.

The adaptation is skillfully handled by the actors and director Dorothy Milne. In a few cases, the repurposing of actors might have been handled slightly more attentively to make the differences between characters more marked and the performances more consistent. For example, Millicent Hurley is impressive as Professor Nancy, the academic advisor of the woman whose murder is at the center of the novel,  but less memorable as the same woman's mother.  Similarly, Patrick Blashill's performance as David Bowden, an archaeologist disgraced by his early forays into questionable scholarship, but less thought seems to have gone into his brief turn as a nationalist villain.

But the leads are solid and consume so much stage time, that any directorial or performance missteps are minor.  Steve Schine is remarkable as Borlú (and, I imagine, exhausted at the end of every performances). Schine has remarkable chemistry with both Marsha Harman (Corwi, the constable assigned to the investigation in Besźel) and Chris Hainsworth (Dhatt, his counterpart in Ul Quoma).

It's not a perfect production, but the flaws are so minor and the undertaking is so ambitious that any shortcomings rapidly fade from memory. Unspeakably impressive job with something really challenging.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Thank you, Mrs. Hopkins, wherever you are.

I am grading papers. I will be grading papers. I look forward to the time, many moons from now, when I will be able to say that I was grading papers.

Some are good. Many are bad. Some have the goodness buried beneath really terrible writing. Those make me the saddest, for my sake and for theirs. For my sake because I have not learned the art of skating through and assigning a grade, so I often spend hours and hours trying to unearth the good and make comments that I hope will help the student let the good shine through. And I don't have that kind of time. For their sake because with the size of my intro classes getting bigger and bigger and bigger all the time, I just can't help them as much as I'd like to. Neither of us has that kind of time.

Grading always makes me think of Mrs. Hopkins, my Honors English teacher, Junior year, British Literature. She was fun. She was disorganized. She was zany. (As a class, we bought her a rubber chicken for Christmas, because she wanted one for her props box.) She loved the material and made us love it, too. But most of all, she taught us how to write.

I think my very first paper for her was on Hamlet. I got a B-- (yes, minus minus). I was shocked. I was appalled. I was disbelieving. I had always gotten As. Always.  I soon learned that mine was the highest grade in the class. Fs abounded. Fs! Can you believe it?

And then she spent several class periods teaching us How to Write—the mechanics: "That" is for things, "Who" is for people. Punctuation generally goes inside quotation marks in American English. If you put a comma before "which" and the sentence sounds funny, you probably meant "that." She taught us how to outline (and better still, WHY to outline, rather than giving us a busy work assignment forcing us to do it): For every I, there must be at least a II. For every A, at least a B. For every 1, at least a 2, and so on. If any topic level doesn't have at least one partner, it's either not part of the fabric of the paper, or it should be organized with some other point under an existing topic level.

She taught us that there was real joy in bringing order out of the chaos of our own thoughts, of disparate sources, of scattered notes that we thought we'd never be able to make sense of. She made us work hard, she gave us the tools to work hard, and she showed us the rewards for hard work—elegant, persuasive writing.

She was awesome.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Love's Bitch, Poet Enough to Admit It: Tales of Hoffman, Opening Night @ Lyric Opera

Opening night of the 2011 season. FINALLY.  Especially as I was deprived of avant garde opera earlier this week.

I'm always well and truly ready for opening night by the time it rolls around, but especially so this year as it was a brand new (to me) production of an opera I know little about. My pre-show nerding out was somewhat disrupted by the fact that someone's coat and program were ON MY SEAT when I arrived early with the full intention of completely digesting the pompous program before curtain.

Unwilling to compound the problem by sitting in someone else's seat, I just sort of hung around in the lobby until I couldn't stand it anymore about 10 minutes before curtain. Of course when the owner of the things showed up, it turned out to be a very nice woman who had mistaken a 3 for a 1 because she didn't have her reading glasses, and then I felt like a jerk for being so huffy. (I wasn't huffy to her, I was just huffy on the inside, but I have an overdeveloped guilt-generating machine.)

In any case, I only just had time to skim the synopsis before the lights went to half. And stayed at half for, like, 10 minutes while people filtered in veeeerrryyy slowly and in chattily, which returned me to the brink of huffiness. (This is partly post-traumatic stress from a couple weeks ago when The Paramount Theatre production of My Fair Lady used the overture for old school purposes and people talked all the way through it. I admit that this is my baggage.)

But I need not have feared: Butts were in seats (or outside the doors) when the curtain rose on James Morris in his Ringmaster Ned get up in front of yet another curtain painted like oversized circus ads, featuring the "Mistress of the Writhing Monsters" front and center. It's not that Morris does not rock the tall boots as Lindorf, and it's not that I don't appreciate an Eve metaphor as much as the next gal, but this was the moment of the design that I didn't really "get." I loved the look and feel, but it's really out of step with everything else in a really tight, wonderful design, and even in a work that is pastiche within pastiche . . . I don't get it.

Of course, I hadn't SEEN the rest of the design at this point, so I was enjoying the old timey circus goodness and tall boots on their own merits, when a very terrible thing happened: James Morris sang . . . badly. It was downright creaky, no depth. Unpleasant. Now, as mentioned above, I am not terribly familiar with Tales of Hoffman. So, thought I, perhaps "Dans les rôles d'amoureux langoureux" is just an ugly piece not to my taste. Well, I've just watched my Welsh bass-baritone boyfriend, Bryn Terfel, sing it, and let's just say that's not the problem.  I am very, very fond of James Morris, so this weirded me out a great deal. Fortunately, whatever was going on seemed confined to the opening scene.

The circus curtain rises on Luther's tavern and Ezio Frigerio's gorgeous, GORGEOUS set. It's framed by a metal skeleton that suggests a mammoth clock face just settling into the earth. At center stage, the top half of the "clock" forms a second proscenium, stained glass alternating with metallic ribs. The upstage wall is translucent wall of more delicately traced arches converging on a rose window. Beautiful. Plus! Barbie townhouse elevators at stage right and left.

These are all static elements of the set that are accentuated or downplayed as appropriate by Jason Brown's amazing lighting design. The tale-within-a-play-within-a-fable nature of the opera calls for a fluid, but easily understood, sense of time and space. Brown's lighting answers the call and keeps an already-long opera moving along.

The moveable pieces are equally wonderful. Luther's tavern is established with bright brass wagon-top still that buildings on Frigerio's steampunk cathedral aesthetic. Something inside one of the still's elements turns merrily all the while, suggesting both a calliope (hmm . . . am I going to have to rethink my position on the circus theme?) and Modern Times.

If I'm picking on the circus thing, I should probably wonder why there's a train in Spalanzani's living room. But the answer is obvious: There is a train in Spalanzani's living because (a) it's an awesomely cold, industrial thing that is still somehow rodent-like and (b) it sets off James Morris's superfly steampunk get up to its greatest advantage.

Train or no train Spalanzani doesn't know how good he has it, because dude, Crespel's living room is totally haunted. Haunted with incredibly creepy self-playing instruments (to say nothing of James Morris's steampunk pony cart—which, RUDE driving that into a man's living room, particularly after having [probably] killed his wife and [definitely] plotting to kill his daughter), his late wife, who may or may not be stuck inside a pipe organ (it might have been intended as a window, but the frosted vertical lines read pipe organ). Act III: Magnificently creepy gondolas, candelabras (nerve wracking in juxtaposition to a large chorus), and extremely well-managed fog.

Cannot say enough good things about the set design. Lovely to look at, excellent framing device (literally and metaphorically), and easy to block a large chorus on it.

I don't know who to credit with two other notable marvels: The design for Olympia, the automaton, and the ghostly instruments. The self-playing instruments only merit second mention in that their motion is simpler and more repetitive. But it's still really, REALLY freakin' cool.

But Olympia? Olympia glides—and I mean literally glides—hither and yon around the stage while every blessed cast member (or near enough) is on stage. Hell, she WALTZES with Hoffman at one point. She's clearly on some kind of rolling platform, but how it moves I have absolutely no idea. Stupdendous.

Of course the technically amazing movement is only part of what amazes about Olympia. Her make up and costume are wonderfully false and terrible (also, kudos to whomever affixed that wig!). And Anna Christy is quite simply amazing. Her physicality is the perfect mix of photo op princess and golem. And, of course, her voice is sublime.

In this production, Lyric deviates slightly from the usual (if there is any usual for an opera whose composer died long before orchestration was finished) in casting 4 different principals to play Hoffman's loves. I have no beef with this. As pompous essayist Roger Pines notes, "Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta are radically different (how remarkable that any one singer has ever been able to take on all three in one evening)." Also, I got to see both Anna Christy and Erin Wall, as well as Alyson Cambridge for the first time.

Wall bears the burden of pathos with Antonia, and she bears it beautifully, both in her arias and singing with Matthew Polenzani. Dramatically, she plays the material—up to and including her death from vaguest villainy—for all its worth. As for Cambridge, I really enjoyed her voice (and isn't that Barcarolle delicious), but didn't get much of a sense of her dramatically.

Other than the split casting for the love interests, the rest of the production is fairly typical: Morris plays all four villains (deliciously); Rodell Rosel plays the servants (I didn't much care for the overly hammy Harpo Marx schtick as Cochenille in Act I, but I loved deaf, dumb, and Frantz); and Nicklausse is a trouser role. A trouser role played BRILLIANTLY by Emily Fons. Her comic timing is flawless, her voice is divine. I am so unendingly grateful that Lyric decided to insert her Act II aria, which is to die for.

Perhaps the best part of Fons' performance is her pairing with Matthew Polenzani, who plays Hoffman so very earnestly and without an iota of irony. He relies on her rendition of Nicklausse to play the perfectly over-the-top exasperation with him just so, rendering any self-awareness on his part completely unnecessary.

I love what this take on the role does for the ending, which could easily descend into pat-yet-awkward opera ending #532. The Muse of Poetry, also played by Fons (and I wish—oh, how I wish!—they'd dispensed with the awkward 11th hour costume change; it's FUNNIER if it's Nicklausse [or the muse, if you prefer] all along!), shows the folly inherent in the pursuit of love and urges him, instead, to dedicate himself to her. But what lends brilliance to Hoffman's tales—what makes him a poet—is his ability to fall in love, wholly and sincerely, every time. Polenzani's Hoffman is wrecked and ruined at the end, a slow, gratifying burn, but you wouldn't be surprised to find tomorrow to be another day, another declaration of undying love.

SUCH a satisfying opening night.

HOLD THE PHONE! I'm editing to add that I cannot believe I neglected to mention David Cangelosi and Christian Van Horn! Cangelosi is always amazing, but he's particularly satisfying as the mad scientist. Christian Van Horn is just right in how he plays both the comedy with Frantz and the fear and eventual heartbreak over Antonia. The trio in Act II with Morris, Polenzani, and Van Horn . . .  I don't have words for it.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

You are All My Children

I was more or less born watching All My Children. I stopped watching regularly several years ago, although it's like the mob (wrong soap, but I also watch that one): You're never really out. I used to write the Tuesday AMC recaps for (remember USENET? Then you are old, as am I). I'll be giving the show a send-off with friends I made on RATSA, some of my very first imaginary internet friends. I think I'll have more to say on the slow death of the genre when I'm slightly less over-committed than I am right now. But for now, here's what was happening in Pine Valley on 9/23/1997. WE HAVE AN OPENING FOR A MISTRESS Skye toodles around Weirdwynd hummingly and grabs a nostril-full of some garment of Ed's. He pops in and watches her. She spies him and he tells her not to stop as it happily reminds her of Maria. They discuss the kids in a very couple-like manner. Ed wants to pitch the shirt of her olfactory dreams because it's covered with paint. She urges him to save it. He agrees, saying it's another nice memory. Ed wants to take her out to dinner for all her help. She tries to plead work. Ed urges her, she accepts. They opt for Holidays over the Valley Inn. Ed calls Mary in to brief her. She asks if he's up to it and asks about his hand. He urges her to call if the kids wake up. She agrees. They bail, she picks up the phone and reaches out to the Count to deliver the bad news: Ed is better. Ed walks in and catches her in the act. I haven't seen him glower like that in ages. He rips the phone from her hand, but Dimp is so upset that he's broken the connection. Ed harangues Mary who claims Dimp was concerned for his health. Mary admits she told him about Sea City et al. Skye gets in on the act. Mary weeps and wails. Ed kicks her out, telling her she betrayed him and his wife and is out of there tonight. Skye and Ed discuss damage control. Ed is irate that Mary turned on Maria who was good to her when she was ill. Ed wonders who else Dimp has bought. Skye is astonished that loyalty means nothing to Dimp. Ed says Loyalty, love, trust and any other human emotion is just a word to Dimp. He'll stop at nothing to get what he wants. Skye comes in with an apron and a cookbook with flour all over her face. She's going to make dinner. Ed tries not to be giggle as Skye mulls over the cookbook. They look up how to fold and egg. Ed takes the book from her, and says he knows what she's up to and it won't work. Skye looks incredibly guilty. Ed says she can't distract him from the Dimp/Mary/ Maddie debacle. He appreciates it, and wants to repay her. He's letting her go. Skye is stricken and begs for her job at Tempo. He tells her to go forth, be fruitful and multiply. Skye grits her teeth and insists she's having fun. Ed doesn't want her her to give up her life for him. Skye refuses to let him go through the fight of his life alone. She tells him that armed forces won't remove her from Wildwind. Ed relents and is shocked to find that he just laughed. He feels like it's a sign: if he can laugh, he can win. Skye runs out to deal with the souffle. Ed and Skye are finishing the dinner. Ed refuses more. They joke about her cooking abilities. He asks about the tune she was humming. Sky reminisces about Althea getting ready to go out as she watched when she was a little girl. She had repressed the memory before tonight. The bell rings. Ed goes to answer. It's a cop serving Edmund papers to appear in court re: Maddy's custody. SHE HAS AN OPENING, SHE'S A PRINCESS Rewind to Laura interrupting Scott's slipping virginity. Gillian scolds her for not knocking and then for her guttersnipe language in explaining that she knows what's going on. All the blood has clearly abandoned Scott's brain as he defends Gillian from Laura who tells him she's oh so sorry that she thought sex should mean something. Gillian burbles something about it being fun. Laura seems primed to scratch her eyes out, but settles for calling trash trash regardless of which side of the tracks it's from. Scott lackidaisically berates her for such language. He yells at her for barging in. Laura suggests closing the door next time. Scott rather irrelevantly tells her that Gillian's performance is a command one and wonders why Laura is there. She claims Stu offered bad info and urges them to pick up where they left off. Gillian tells her it's not th th that seempew. Laura wonders how many men of different nationalities have fallen for the faux party girl act. Gillian wonders why Laura doesn't like games. Laura goes off on phonies. Gillian throws it back saying Laura lied to Scott for months. Scott doesnt like that either. Gillian urges Laura to admit she's jealous and hangs on Scott. Scott tells her to back off. Her voice leaps several octaves as she sneers that she didn't realize Scott was only interested in her mind. More unintelligible stuff and she flounces out after some advice to Laura about not starving? Laura apologizes and humbly admits she had no right to barge in on them. She says he has the right to bed whomever he wants. Scott is either the quintessential tease or suffering from Alzheimer's. In spite of the fact that he was playing down comforter to the princess in the bra, he claims he wouldn't do that when Stu might walk in. The long and the short of it is, it's none of Laura's business, he's a guy with needs and Gillian is a veritable Galaxy of Mailbox Fulfillments. Scott, with no trace of irony, is indignant that she should think him so cheap. Scott tells her again that sex was not the issue and can't believe she really thinks that's why they broke up. Scott says that Gillian's assets help him forget what he misses most: Laura. The Luuuv doctor has prescribed defunct royalty for what ails him. Laura doesn't trust him and therefore doesn't love him and that's the bottom line. He tells her to look him up if she decides to trust him. THE MAGICAL MELTDOWN TOUR At WRCW Liza looks on as Tad is in the throes of another successful interview with Jane and her magazine. Pitch pitch pitch, verbal spar verbal spar verbal spar and yes . . . ladies and germs . . . I do believe there's a ratty orange haze on the meadow. Brooke rushes the set and tells Tad that they have to tell the public together. She raves, she rambles, Tad tries to reason and Liza orders the crew to catch every minute of the breakdown. Liza directs the camera crew. Tad continues to try to talk her down. Jane Pratt comes over for no particular reason and reminds Brooke that they met the month before at the Women in Media (snicker) conference. Brooke alternates for a few moments between apologizing and continuing to rave at Tad. Jane slowly backs away and Tad asks her to reschedule. My heart about stops as Brooke utters the words that strike fear into the hearts of BABES around the world: I want to do it here. I wanna do it here for the cameras. She assures him that this could happen to anyone! (Don't you threaten me, woman) They tried to put her in jail for telling the truth. Tad, at long last, is the first person, including hospital personnel, to ask her for a blow by blow of the plane incident. She says she tried to warn innocent people. Tad tries to ask sensible questions and she barks that they don't want to deal with her (no one does, Brooke, no one does). She explains that she took a big scary flying thingy, but it was ok because Jim was with heranitwasokuntilthebigbadnoiseandthepressureandthethingand the oh Ladyyyeeeee. She makes weird hamster noises when she comes to the part about the flight attendant restraining her from opening the Emergency exit. She says Jim defended her, apparently having sublimated ths slap. Tad gently suggests a short sharp trip to hospital land. Brooke promises us all that she isn't going to go away and Tad has to help her. Jim creeps in on little cat feet. Tad tries to reassure Brooke that if the airline is hiding something it will come to light. He tells her it was natural for her to panic so soon after the crash. She screeches that the threat was real, not her panic. Tad tries to present the possibility that she'll never have a satisfactory answer. Brooke whines that Jim is the only one who understands, knows etc. Tad suggests that she talk to someone. Brooke spies Jim and gets positively banshee-like demanding that Jim explain things. Tad finally clues in that they're being taped and tells everyone to knock off. Liza slinks around taking notes as Tad demands Brooke go back to the hospital if the police are involved. Derrick shows up to escort her back to rubber land. Jim get sin his face . Liza looks pleased as punch. She watches the back of Brooke's head through a monitor. Jim tells Derrick this doesn't have to get ugly. Derrick suggests it already has. JT winds down and asks for a private word with his detectiveness. JT points out that this could be a double-edged PR nightmare. Derrick can't let her walk, but JT isn't suggesting that. He promises to take Brooke on a date down to HQ on the morrow. Derrick caves, but still tries to sound threatening as he promises an APB if she's a no show. Brooke throws looks of death at Brooke, then rolls over to have her belly-scratched as JT approaches. As they bail, she babbles about having won Tad over to their side. Liza smiles. She hands the tape off to a lackey instructing him to rush it to editing and suggesting that problems be addressed to her, not to Tad. He re-enters. She plays innocent when he asks after the tape. She flat out lies that it has probably been erased. Tad plays the baby card: is she gonna teach Coco to lie in utero? Liza says it was fascinating and he's too close to the issue. He begs her as a friend to give the tape up. She says she has sympathy but she can't back off every big name loony who throws herself in camera range for him. Tad begs again, for her to do it for him. Doing the right thing is more important than a 30 share. Liza says responsibility to audience out ways responsibility to the mother of his child and she will report the meltdown. Tad blames this coldness on Adam hurting her. Liza appears to consider this. Back at Casa Destiny Brooke tries to thank Jim. He assures her it's nothing. Brooke wants to make a list and check it twice. Jack tops the list of pressure folk. Jim rips the pen and paper from her hand. She whinges to him to back off. She turns on him, telling him he sold out and asking the dollar amount. He denies taking a dime (hmmm . . . didn't they discuss him taking a settlement earlier? Wasn't Brooke sure he could do no wrong?) Brooke says that the concern everyone is playing at is a smoke screen. JT tells her she's hiding behind her anger so she doesn't have to deal with the crash. He kneels in front of her and urges her to let what is inside of her out. I predict the CDC is all over his pornographing butt in minutes. Brooke stares at him, fiddles with her ear. Then her chin. Hauls herself to her feet and vows not to give into fear because it's what THEY want. She won't be trapped in the past. She will face each day head on, she squeaks. No body is the boss of her or her feelings. She trounces to the stairs, looks back over her shoulder at him, then heads up. JT looks put out.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Songwriter's Navel: Week 27, In Which I Write a Cheerful Song About a Dead Person

Extraordinarily frustrating and messed up recording.


This is one of those songs where I failed completely to capture any of the interesting things that were in my head. The rhythm is all wrong, the melody line wanders away from what it should be at multiple points, and boy did I screw up the B sections. I'm really disappointed in it.

This was the last assignment that I was in class to receive: Write a song with "summer" in it and write in one of the "bright" keys with sharps—E or B, capoing ok, because only crazy people write in B on the guitar.

When I missed class because I was sick, I had intended to go to a Sunday make-up class. My grandmother then died on Saturday and I felt like it was wise to go up to hang with the family on Sunday instead. On Monday, I beat my head against the wall trying to do the assignment that would be due on the coming Tuesday, which was a "Turn the Page" song in 3/4 or some variant thereof. Late in the head-beating-against-the-wall process, I thought about playing around with the summer assignment instead, and the line "Let's spend the summer in the big, yellow house" popped into my head. My grandmother was, of course, on my mind, and the house they lived in when I was a kid suggested itself. I spent a lot of time there as a kid, often with my cousin, who is the same age.

I threw my capo on the second fret and started playing around with chord shapes in the key of D. (Yes, a normal person probably would have just written it uncapoed in E. Have we met?) The melody of that line popped in and stayed there, and I could feel that there was a kind of sotto voce tail end to the line (what the heck do you call that, when there's lyric, but it's kind of filler . . . oh, hell, I am deeply stupid today. Anyway, in the first couple of A sections, it's "You and me.").

Why did the line "chasing helicopter daisies" suggest itself? I could not begin to tell you. I don't even really know what it means, although I'm pretty sure it refers to samaras, which are those helicopter seeds that maples produce. For a while, the line was "chasing helicopter daisies down the street," but then the song told me that, no, there wasn't that tail end to the second line, and furthermore there wasn't a hard AABB rhyme scheme, but rather some loose, suggestive assonance running through the lines instead.

The second half of the first A section ended up being about my grandmother's car—a pea green Nova, probably a 1971 or 1972. The vinyl interior was a busy houndstooth pattern that was always, always hot and had a crackly texture (at the time, both my grandparents smoked, which no doubt contributed). The back seat was always filled with bingo chips and coupons, which suggested some images for later. I fought with the phrasing of the second half of the verse, but it ended up thus:

[A] Let’s spend the [G] summer in the [D] big, yellow house, [D]
You and [A] me, chasing [G] helicopter [D] daisies [D]
[A] Let’s feel the [G] houndstooth burn the [D] backs of our [D] knees in the
[A] Back seat of the [G] car behind the [D] big, yellow [A] house

And this is where I started to ruin the song. Using the refrain at the beginning and ending of the A section doesn't work, particularly as the chord progression is the same throughout. I tried to tell myself that I could vary the melody and fix it, but no . . .

After I wrote this verse, I sat with it for probably 4 or 5 hours trying to write more. I tried coming at if from a stream-of-consciousness perspective, writing down images and memories associated with the house and that time of my life in my notebook. I tried crafting sentences in the same rhythmic template as "Let's spend the summer in the big, yellow house." I tried thinking of words that have the same rhythm as "helicopter," thinking that maybe that second line was the lynchpin of the A sections, given that it was an unusual choice. I had a melodramatic hissy fit during which I declared that I was obviously OBVIOUSLY never ever ever going to write another song EVER again.

Part of my trouble stemmed from the fact that the song was very much about my cousin and me staying over at our grandparents' house, but I'd introduced the back seat of a car in the first A section, which suggests clandestine nookie and maybe a romantic relationship. Those kinds of ideas kept creeping in, and I have "Let's live together" and things like that. In other words, I had a brain divided.

I'd brought my songwriting notebook on the morning of the funeral, because I didn't really know how the day was going to go, if I'd be in a position to go to class that night, and so on. In the car, it suddenly became clear to me that the second A section started with "Let's find adventure in the big, yellow house" and involved hiding in the pantry (neither my house nor my cousin's had anything as cool and exotic as a pantry, and we loved the one at Mimi & Papa's). Back-seat nookie be damned! Nothing says childhood like finding adventure! What I wrote down in my notebook as the second A section actually morphed into part A section, part B section, but I wouldn't know that until the following week, when I picked the song back up to work on.

Here's the second A section:

[A] Let’s find [G] adventure in the [D] big, yellow house, [D]
You and [A] me, secret [G] hideout in the [D] pantry [D]
[A] Cold cream [G] disguises, and [D] cloak-and-dagger [D] schemes on the
[A] Dirt-floor [G] in the basement of the [D] big, yellow [A] house

Did we ever disguise ourselves with cold cream? You bet we did! Mimi had a big old white glass tub of ponds on her dresser, and she was foolish enough to give up her bedroom to us when we stayed over. We totally caught hell for using all the cold cream once. I'm not sure that the basement, strictly speaking, had a dirt floor, but it was unfinished and dark and scary with unreliable old light-switches. We both loved sneaking down there and feared getting stuck.

B section! What the what? So, I had two long A sections with repetitive lyrics and repetitive chord structure. Just how many songwriting rules can I break at once? The B section . . . sort of has different chords. I completely fucked the B section up in the recording, because I was trying to follow a suggestion about removing this long, awkward pause at the end of the first line and I just screwed the pooch big time. I guess the B section is more free-form images:

[E] On the checkerboard floor, in the [D] claw-foot [A] tub, we’ll sail away [E] [D]
Down the [A] green stamp [A7] river to the [D] bingo-chip sea [A] to save the [E7] day

Being a big, old-fashioned frame house, it naturally had a big, claw-foot tub and black-and-white tiles in the bathroom. They might have been octagonal, rather than checkerboard, but another strong memory associated with Mimi was the fact that she would never, NEVER let you win at checkers. If you beat her, you beat her on your own merits. I had originally written the second line as "coupon river," in reference to the aforementioned back-seat coupons, but as S pointed out, that's a lousy, lousy word to sing. I think green stamp works because it evokes the same kind of thing. (Does anyone but me even remember what green stamps are?) I'm still murderizing the melody in the B section, and the timing problems I introduced in recording ain't helping.

I had hoped I'd be able to work the story about locking my uncle into his bedroom into the song. (Come on! It's an old house with brass keys in the locks. You're two 7-year-old girls. You're annoyed with the 17-year-old uncle who is not delighted to have you around. Tell me that you wouldn't try turning the key in the door to his room just once.) It didn't work out quite that way, but this A section got filled up with things we weren't supposed to do.

The attic was really just more bedrooms. I'm not exactly sure why weren't supposed to go up there. The screen door on the front of the house was heavy wood on an ancient spring. It shook the whole house when one left it to slam. At the back of the house, there was a weird arrangement of a kind of mudroom and then a very small bedroom, which was my grandfather's. They kept their "frigidaire" (as Mimi always, always called it) back there. Like the pantry, we just thought it was cool and would often set up shop there:

[A] Bet we’ll find [G] trouble [D] big, yellow house, [D]
You and [A] me, we’ll play it cool, [G] we’ll get off [D] easy [D]
[A] Ransack the [G] attic, slam the [D] front door, [D] use the back porch as our
[A] Technicolor [G] stage by the [D] big, yellow [A] house

I thought I was going to go right into a B section, then end on a tag, but as I was leaving the house, another A section cropped up:

[A] We’ll keep our [G] secrets in the [D] big, yellow house, [D]
Safe and [A] sound, locked up [G] tight with a [D] brass key [D]
[A] No one will [G] know, we’ll never [D] tell, they’ll [D] find out what we
[A] Whispered [G] in the dark in the [D] big, yellow [A] house

As for the second B section, I owe a debt to my cousin. She made a collage for the funeral that had pictures and images that she associated with the house and our sleepovers there: Bingo chips (natch), jell-o (didn't make the cut), and a transistor radio. I had forgotten that we were in the habit of sneaking the radio into bed at night and surreptitiously (I'm sure) listening to it.

[E] In our throw-pillow fort on the [A] front room floor, we’ll sing along [E]
To the [A] transistor popping, [D] crackling through our favorite [E7] song

So. You can't end on the B section, you know. So what the hell? How about a schmaltzy taggy thing:

[A] Make me a [G] promise in the [D] big yellow house, [D]
cross your [A] heart, never [G] grow up, never [D] change

I really did try to edit out some of the repetition and work on other suggestions that would have improved this, but nothing was willing to come together. At. All. I'm sorry, little song. You deserved better.

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