Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Silversun Pickups: Kissing Families

thanks to baxter for this gem...

Stop the season stop the sting
a plastic mic a broken string
infected wound from a rusty ring

soon you'll be there too

kissing families can't recall
a program to derail us all
forgotten prison it's been safe 'til now

it's no wonder that we did it this way
keep looking forward on paths sideways
it's everything that is connected and beautiful
and now i know just where i stand
move on
roll along
not today
it's everything that is connected and beautiful
and now i know just where i stand

thank god your heart is too close

this can be the bitter end
i know it wont

well someone said i made a mistake
kept looking forward on paths sideways
it's everything that is connected and beautiful
and now i know just where i stand
seasons always shift too late
spent too much time now on paths sideways
everything that is connected and beautiful
and now i know just where i stand
thank god it's over....

Monday, February 23, 2009

Everything is amazing...and no one is happy...

Conan hosts the comedian Louis CK who is talking of the spoiled generation.

This guy is my hero.

Thanks to Lindsay for this one.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

It's dangerous on Boylston Street: Looney Tunes has half-price sale on all CDs...

It's dangerous in here, I said today in Looney Tunes, the used music store up on Boylston Street. Yeah, but it's only half as dangerous as it used to be, came the reply.

Every CD and DVD is on sale for half price during February, so stuff that's already outrageously cheap is so hard to resist.

I stopped myself after five for twenty bucks. Damn economy. Unemployment just isn't going to cover my habit.

The Jayhawks: Hollywood Town Hall
The Jayhawks: Tomorrow the Green Grass
Alejandro Escovedo: Gravity
Guy Clark: The Essential Guy Clark
Golden Smog: Down by the Old Mainstream

Well, you can pretty much see my tastes right there. But the place is filled with every genre. Always a great place to stop when you're in Boston.

John, who works at the meat counter at Stop 'n Shop in Quincy, rocks

John, who works at the Stop 'n Shop in Quincy on Newport Avenue, truly rocks.

Kathryn is coming over tomorrow, and I wanted to make something special for her. I love cooking, I love taking care of people, I love watching people enjoy my cooking. So I decided to make lamb stew, but yesterday when I went grocery shopping, there was only one package of lamb for stewing.

I stopped someone wearing a bloody apron and asked if he was getting more in the next day (today.) He said, maybe, but if he didn't he'd cut me some when I came in.

Okay, so today I stop in, thinking, maybe he'll remember, maybe he won't, maybe he won't be there and no one will know what I'm talking about, or maybe they'll be too busy and just tell me to pound sand.

I go to the meat section, and no lamb. So I stopped some guy, and lo and behold, it's the same, guy. His name is John and he remembers me. I start talking and he cuts me off and says, oh yeah, I remember you. I mean, I didn't even remember him, and he remembers me out of how many customers does he see in a day? The guy truly rocks.

So he bones some lamb for me, and I'm all set.

You know, in this day and age, you don't see stuff like this very often anymore. We lead our hectic lives and things don't go very well most of the time for us and then we want to do something as simple as make a lamb stew for someone we love, and we seem to get thwarted every way we turn.

But not this time.

And for anyone who's interested in a really simple but awesome meal, here's the recipe. I usually make rice in chicken broth, but for this it's simply white boiled rice in a cooker. And I also use some lamb on the bone for the flavor. So you have to pick the bones with your hands, big deal.

Serve over rice and some Middle Eastern bread to sop up the juices.

Moroccan Lamb Stew

Serves 4.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes


2 tablespoons oil
28 oz / 800 g lean lamb, diced
17 fl oz / 500 ml beef or chicken stock
1 medium onion, chopped
4 oz / 100 g pitted prunes
4 oz / 100 g dried apricots
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Freshly ground pepper


Heat the oil on a medium heat in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add half the meat and cook until brown. Remove from the pan and place on kitchen towel (lamb can be quite fatty), and cook the rest of the meat.

Put all the meat in the pan, add all the other ingredients and season with pepper to taste. You shouldn’t need to add salt, as stock tends to be quite salty.
Bring gently to the boil, lower the heat and simmer with the lid on for about 1 hour or until the meat is tender. Stir 2-3 times during this time to avoid sticking.

Serve with boiled rice or couscous.

Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song

What is a life? A journey, perhaps? And what if it's the life of a song? What is it then? Is it the same as a person's life, where it touches other people's lives, blessing some, damning others, as it rollicks down its own path, either towards its own fate or random ending?

Ted Anthony makes a pretty fair argument that it's the latter as he traces the song, House of the Rising Sun from its roots in what he calls The Village, a fictional place in what Anthony calls the Golden Triangle, a place in the hills where Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee all come together.

From The Village where a sixteen-year old Georgia Turner was first recorded singing it by Alan Lomax, employed by the Library of Congress in 1937 to collect samplings of folk music, to karaoke bars in Thailand, Anthony follows the life of this song of warning and despair--the reason, he postulates, that gives it such universal appeal.

Known originally as The Rising Sun Blues, the song started out as a story about a young girl and a warning to her younger sister, and it was sung in a major key. Over the years, different performers, some prominent, others just back-country hillbillies in Appalachia and as far away as the Ozarks, put their individual mark on the song, rewriting lyrics, swapping stanzas. Ultimately, we all know the Animals' version, sung in a minor key about a young man's life gone to hell from the decadence in a house of ill-repute in New Orleans. Little tidbits of information are almost on every page. The word "house" was kept out of the title most over pretty much the course of the song's life, because of the subconscious knee-jerk jump we'd have of putting the word, "whore" in front of the word "house".

The two most notable characters in the story, Turner and the Animals' Eric Burden, barely profited, if at all, from the song that played such an important part of their lives. Turner, late in a life that turned to drinking, finally did start to receive small royalty checks for the song that bears her name. Burden, who sang the arrangement that is most popular today, didn't receive a cent.

Anthony, twice nominated for the Pulitzer, is thorough if not a bit clinical. With a reporter's nose, he ferrets out stories and people from all over the globe, following even the smallest lead, but the account is fascinating; the song in all its iterations--from front porch performances in Appalachia to Muzak in elevators--has probably been heard by just about everyone in the modern world, and so you or I could have been fodder for this account. If it all sounds mundane, then think about the first time you ever heard the song, or how you feel right now when you think of the melody, and that's the essence of the book.

Following the song is following a part of American culture that, for some of us, is a deep and longing part of our past. I grew up in that world of country folks, or at least the tail end of it, and even as a youngster I knew it was a world that was rapidly being overtaken by the modern world, like a horse and buggy being overtaken by a Greyhound bus on country road. When the generation comprising my aunts and uncles died out, I knew a way of life would fade from the world. What's funny is to see, through following Anthony's narrative, how that world was melded into today's world. Bastardized, perhaps, but the remnants are there, and that's just the way of the world.

Just to give you a taste of how far afield the song has gone.

Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley:

Friday, February 6, 2009

Something good and joyous happened this week

I got two pieces of good news in the past two days that just made my heart sing. They had nothing to do with "career" or employment or anything remotely resembling anything stable or legit and everything to do with living and loving life.

And that they both came from my two daughters, put me in heaven.

Yesterday I wrote my youngest a message on Facebook wondering if for some crazy reason she had Monday off. High school kids nowadays have so many days off, odds were in my favor that she might. And if she didn't, I wondered if maybe we couldn't do a snow dance to work up a snow day.

The reason was, on Sunday night, Sarah Lee Guthrie, granddaughter of Woody and youngest of Arlo, will be playing at Club Passim, and I thought it would be good for her to see Guthrie play. And it wasn't because she wanted to get out of school that Kathryn said she'd like to go. She's a smart, curious kid whose sole reason on earth seems to be to enjoy life. A night out in Cambridge, even with her old man, who I think she still gets quite a kick out of, was simply the better educational choice than high school...well, high school anything, really.

One of many pieces of guilt I constantly carry around with me for leaving the kids' mom the way I did was that it drove a huge wedge between me and my kids. Allison has said a few times now that one of the things that she missed about not having me around was how I always played music--all kinds of music from rock to show tunes to concert. Music is, I think, one of the most important gifts we have on the planet. We don't fully understand how it affects us. (I just heard the other day that some people see colors when they listen to music; how cool is that?) But kids need to be taught it. Otherwise, they're just subject to the whims and pressures of the culture, or what passes of culture. I hate that I wasn't more of an influence to them. And maybe that's why I'm so stoked about Kathryn wanting to see Guthrie. Maybe something of me really did rub off.

I never wanted my kids to grow up straight-laced. I didn't want them wild, either. I wanted them to grow up, experience life, make mistakes, learn from the mistakes, and keep growing and enjoying life. I wanted them to grow up, mature, and be able to stand up for themselves in this life. Make choices and responsible decisions like Kathryn did. I told them both, we all know where drinking and drugs will take us. Go out and make new mistakes. Probably not the most mature and maybe not the most responsible advice for a parent to give, but I think you, and they, got the point.

Then today I was IMing with Allison, who just arrived in Venice. She and some friends have a break from school in Granada and are just sort of bumming around northern Italy. I did something like that when I was about 17, just working for awhile and saving my money and then backpacking through Europe and part of Turkey for three months. And to this day I remember the freedom and the joy of learning and meeting new people and seeing and experiencing new sights. Life should always be that way. And I read Allison's messaging, saying she wants a life on the road (are you reading this Sue?) and me telling her I always did want to travel and she said I should and I said maybe I will. Both my kid tell me I should go back to photography.

My little girl has grown up into a traveler, something to my way of thinking couldn't be more noble. A traveler. Not a tourist, but a traveler, someone who loves the freedom of moving about on this earth and being a citizen of the earth, not some member of some arbitrary geopolitical nonsense.

I think on Monday I wrote on my Twitter status line that I wondered what the week would bring. This week had its moments. So you just ride it all out, and if you find yourself going through hell just keep moving and the devil might not even notice you're there (yes, that's a line from a country song.) And then when something good and joyful comes along, you just grab it and let it take you soaring in the clouds.


Wish you were here.

Sue left for Mexico yesterday for five days. I saw her off at the airport, and thanks to the T running late, we just were able to get her boarding passes and then off to the gate. So, Bob and I are back to our bachelor days, already slipping back into old habits acquired from living and being alone.

It's not bad, I'm just saying life is different without her. When you're not sharing a space, and especially a life, with another person, particularly another person who you love, you tend to focus on yourself, and just like those lists where you write out 25 Random Things About Yourself, it all gets pretty boring after awhile.

I'm sorry, I'm just one of those people who not only believes, but lives his life feeling that if you're not sharing it and your experiences with someone else, it all gets a little pointless. A little dull. This is just me: But I've spent way too much of my time alone or doing things by myself. I've overcome the fear and discomfort in my younger years of doing things alone in public like going to movies and out to dinner by myself to prove I don't need someone else. I've hiked and camped and traveled alone, and scraped and struggled through personal difficulties alone, proving I really don't need anyone else to get along in this world. I like people and I like talking to people and interacting with them. And if you take that to its furthest appeal, to feel completely content, I like intimately sharing my life with a woman.

I'm not some right-wing, Bible-thumping fundamentalist either. I think anyone who can find happiness in this world, anyway with anyone they can is all right by me. And I know there are people who don't have the same needs I have. Some people enjoy living alone. Some people are so wrapped up in their own lives (and I know that the way I worded it is is mildly pejorative) they don't have time or energy for someone else. They think it's a burden. A person becomes an obligation which, to my way of thinking, is one of the worst things a person can be. Yeah, a person who lives like that is a little selfish, if not a lot of selfish. There's no law against it.

But right now it's a bit after 8:00 in the morning and I'm sitting on the couch where I (and Sue) always sit in the morning with our coffee and it's just not the same. (Something About What Happens When We Talk. Lucinda Williams. I've posted the YouTube vid and lyrics before, so if you want you can look them up.)

And maybe I'm being melodramatic, or I'm thinking too much; I've been accused of both--usually by people whose heads would start to ache after a bit of mental exercise--but I am an actor and I do have an IQ of 135. In the past I've dumbed down to so many people, and finally a good doctor said to me, John, you're just going to have to get used to the fact that you're smart. It's not easy being different in this society; you're never accepted for who you are. So because of some God-given talent I have, and an ability to achieve a high score on a Western, white-dominated testing model, I am able to see and understand some things that others can't. And so I can put myself in a time and a place where Sue isn't in my life, and I don't like it one bit. It's how I can tell I love her to death and the life that we have.

So today is a day like so many I've had before. There are deadlines to make (I am a writer, too, which means if you give me a deadline I'll go right up to it.) There is music to study, not the least is the song that inspired this post. There are a couple of critters to tend to and a few errands to run. I have no idea what the day will hold or bring. Knowing what I know, I'll have a few smiles and laughs; I always do, mainly because I've learned to make my own fun.

Still, I wish she was here.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bad Jazz: Really good stuff from Zeitgeist Stage Company

Finally, something you can sit through for an hour and 45 minutes and not even notice there wasn't an intermission. You want it to keep going and going, at the fever pace it established from the beginning of the play and it kept going throughout the entire play, non-stop, boom, boom, boom, boom, bang, clang--the last two notes because it is all Bad Jazz.

The New England premiere of Bad Jazz opened last week at the Boston Center for the Arts for a three-week run. The structure is a play within a play, always fun for an actor like me to watch, but you don't have to be an actor to enjoy this farce, to laugh at the driven, creative "genius" director, who many times is the only one who has a clue about what he's talking about, if he's talking about anything at all, or shake your head at the obsessive method actress who eventually lives her part as a hooker.

All the actors deftly deliver on Robert Farquhar's snappy, cutting script with it's combination of Mamet-like dialogue, one part humor, one part irony, and one part laser-sharp observation on relationships--Noisy improvisation that start out with structure but break down to make something that can only sound and be called bad jazz.

Especially delightful, though, are Kara Manson playing Natasha and Mac Young playing Danny.

Manson plays Natasha with depth and range, taking her character on a journey that starts with an ended relationship, through the fire of the play she inhabits as a tortured young woman looking for love and coming out empty out the other side. My God, Farquhar must have the same love/hate relationship many people in the theater have for the theater.

Young nails the young male actor we've all seen, talented but clueless to the subtlety and meaning of the script due to inexperience in life and, God knows, just plain naivete, but Danny eventually learns a lot more about life, although he never learns to expertly shoot heroin. His final role in the play is purgatory for all actors.

Michael Steven Costello, as Gavin, the megalomaniacal director makes some interesting choices that are fun to watch. Rather than play it dark and brooding, Costello saunters and dances across the stage as his character stabs and thrusts and feints at the world and theater, as he eventually gets his just reward from Elvis, a minor character played by Zachary Winston with relish. Costello plays it almost, but not quite, cartoon-like, which is masterful and works for the entire play except at the very end, where he meets his end. He just needs to tone it down a bit, that's all.

Becca A. Lewis plays a quirky, twisted sort as Hannah, the playwright. She might have the best line in the play, when Danny demands to know what the play is about, and she tells him she hasn't a clue. Lewis also performs a wonderful counterpart to Hannah as Danielle, the producer of the play.

David J. Miller both director and set designer, maintains his vision, and it's interesting to walk into the theater and have some of the audience actually walk through the set to get to their seats. From the beginning we know it's going to be and in-your-face experience. Again, the actors come out like racehorses out of the gate, and don't let up for a minute.

Special notice, too, goes to Jeff Adelbeg for lighting, creating the proper mood and space from the rehearsal theater to Gavin's apartment late at night.

Monday, February 2, 2009

New Year's celebration: Chintatown

Traveling, to me, is a state of mind. And as much as I want to soon be in a country where the likes of me stands out like a sore thumb, I also believe that, just like Dorothy, sometimes you don't have to look beyond your own backyard. I've felt like that about Boston for so long. I've never done the Freedom Trail (and I hope I die never having done it), have been to the Union Oyster House precisely one time in the 28 years that I've lived here, and avoid Faneuil Hall like the plague, but I'm constantly being delighted and surprised by experiences here that a person would have traveling to a far off city.

I fell in love with Chinatown the first time I ever set foot in its groady streets. I can remember when Chinatown pretty much consisted of a four-block neighborhood. It gives me my much-needed fix for the Far East, and there's nothing I like more than sitting down in a restaurant where I am the only farang. I know it's going to be good if only the locals eat there.

Yesterday the Chinese celebrated their New Year, or at least as much as I know about it, one of the days of their New Year celebration, and yesterday, a glorious day that felt like a heat wave after the bitterness winter has delivered, dragons and drummers and enough gunpowder to blow up all the bad spirits coursed through Chinatown.

I've seen this celebration on many occasions, and I've always felt like a voyeur. This day brings more white people to Chinatown than I usually see there. Sue and I rode the Red Line to South Station and walked over to the Gate. Immediately we were swept up into a crowd following oe of the organizations that go to each business frightening away demons.

It's an amazing display of the spiritual world intersecting the reality-based commercial world. Right now I sit here and smile, thinking of dragons and drummers shouting their way through the ad agency I just worked for. If anywhere needs demons exorcised, it's American business. What if every year we had pounded drums and lit firecrackers on Wall Street? But the belief just isn't there, the belief that a spiritual world sits right there, next to us all the time, we just don't see it. And it interacts with us in a real way on a daily basis.

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