Saturday, January 30, 2010

To be an actor, in the words of Zooey Glass

From a book that had an incredible impact on me and my thoughts and values. So when I look mad or intense or I simply don't want to talk to you in the Green Room or at rehearsal or even when I don't want to go out for drinks, or for God's sake, Karaoke, understand this is where I'm coming from.

"Oh, what the hell's the difference where I am? Pierre, South Dakota, for God's sake. Listen to me, Franny--I'm sorry, don't get riled. But listen to me. I have just one or two very small things more, and then I'll quit, I promise you that. But did you know, just by the way, that Buddy and I drove up to see you in stock last summer? Did you know we saw you in 'Playboy of the Western World' one night? One god-awful hot night, I can tell you that. But did you know we were there?"

An answer seemed to be called for. Franny stood up, then immediately sat down. She placed the ashtray slightly away from her, as if it were very much in her way. "No, I didn't," she said. "Nobody said one single--No, I didn't."

"Well, we were. We were. And I'll tell you, buddy. You were good. And when I say good, I mean good. You held that goddam mess up. Even all those sunburned lobsters in the audience knew it. And now I hear you're finished with the theatre forever--I hear things, I hear things. And I remember the spiel you came back with when the season was over. Oh, you irritate me, Franny! I'm sorry, you do. You've made the great startling goddam discovery that the acting profession's loaded with mercenaries and butchers. As I remember, you even looked like somebody who'd just been shattered because all the ushers hadn't been geniuses. What's the master with you, buddy? Where are your brains? If you've had a freakish education, at least use it, use it. You can say the Jesus Prayer from now till doomsday, but if you don't realize that the only thing that counts in the religious life is detachment, I don't see how you'll ever even move an inch. Detachment, buddy, and only detachment. Desirelessness. 'Cessation from all hankerings.' It's this business of desiring, if you want to know the goddam truth, that makes an actor in the first place. Why're you making me tell you things you already know? Somewhere along the line--in one damn incarnation or another, if you like--you not only had a hankering to be an actor or an actress but to be a good one. You're stuck with it now. You can't just walk out on the results of your own hankerings. Cause and effect, buddy, cause and effect. The only thing you can do now, the only religious thing you can do, is act. Act for God, if you want to-- be God's actress, if you want to. What could be prettier? You can at least try to, if you want to --there's nothing wrong in trying." There was a slight pause. "You'd better get busy, though, buddy. The goddam sands run out on you every time you turn around. I know what I'm talking about. You're lucky if you get time to sneeze in this goddam phenomenal world." There was another, slighter pause. "I used to worry about that. I don't worry about it very much any more. At least I'm still in love with Yorick's skull. At least I always have time enough to stay in love with Yorick's skull. I want an honorable goddam skull when I'm dead, buddy. I hanker after an honorable goddam skull like Yorick's. And so do you, Franny Glass. So do you, so do you. . . . Ah, God, what's the use of talking? You had the exact same goddam freakish upbringing I did, and if you don't know by this time what kind of skull you want when you're dead, and what you have to do to earn it--I mean if you don't at least know by this time that if you're an actress you're supposed to act, then what's the use of talking?"

Franny was now sitting with the flat of her free hand pressed against the side of her face, like someone with an excruciating toothache.

"One other thing. And that's all. I promise you. But the thing is, you raved and you bitched when you came home about the stupidity of audiences. The goddam 'unskilled laughter' coming from the fifth row. And that's right, that's right--God knows it's depressing. I'm not saying it isn't. But that's none of your business, really. That's none of your business, Franny. An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's. You have no right to think about those things, I swear to you. Not in any real sense, anyway. You know what I mean?"

Thursday, January 28, 2010

R.I.P. Holden Caulfield

J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zoeey, Nine Stories, and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters died today.I think that's pretty much the extent of his work. But what a great collection. Definitely quality over quantity.

Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of Catcher is every teen's alter-ego. I know that's going out of a limb saying that. Holden was the image of white, preppy America and I wonder if Black America would agree with my statement. But I'm willing to wiggle out on that limb because even me as a working class teen identified with Holden and his angst over dysfunctional America.

So how's this for dysfunctional: As a teen I pretended that Holden and the entire Glass family were my family. They were smart and urbane--everything my Midwestern family wasn't--and their intelligence put them outside the norm of that society for which we all aspired but still felt kind of creepy about wanting. There was Seymour, the mystic who committed suicide, Buddy the older brother/writer, Zooey the actor, and strong, fragile, beautiful Franny--I wanted so much to for them to be my brothers and sisters. And Bessie, dear Bessie, their crazy New York mother who carried packs of cigarettes and lighters and wrenches in her apron pocket.

Zooey, though, was my favorite. He was a talented actor, and his intelligence though made him angry and slightly depressed. That was the thing about all of the Glass children, how their intelligence was as much a curse as a blessing, and how they wore their depression so well. No wonder I admired him so much. In Franny and Zooey, Zooey soaks in the bathtub and rereads a long letter Buddy wrote to him. The next scene, Bessie barges in on him, and he recites that hysterical line, I see me dead in the rain. After reading that I took to reading in the bathtub, carefully turning the damp pages of a book as carefully as I would a cherished letter from my brother.

My sophomore year in high school I chose Catcher to read and report on for my AP English class. AP stands for Advanced Placement. Brainiac English students. And the teacher was...skeptical...about the book. I later dropped out of AP English and went back to the hoi polloi of science fiction (Dune) and creative writing.

The best part I liked about Salinger's work is that every bit of it was just stellar, each story was as good as the other, and of course him insisting on being a recluse from society will always score major points in my book. He offered up his work, then turned his back. I guess he felt like he didn't owe society anything, and didn't want anything from society either, so remarkable in this era of vapid egotism in search of empty fame.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Save the Midldle Class...Ride a Train

President Barack Obama tonight will deliver his State of the Union message, and it's said that he's listened to the people, taking note of the drumming the Democrats got in Massachusetts, losing Ted Kennedy's senatorial seat to virtual unknown, Scott Brown. And to all you Teabaggers out there, yes it was Kennedy's seat, and your crowing about it being the People's Seat is just a bunch of empty blathering that people in need of slogans pass off for intelligent conversation, so give it up. JSYK, it IS now Scott Brown's seat, it doesn't belong to any of you people who voted for him, and he's responsible for everything that happens there now, just like Kennedy was. And if don't believe me, go try sitting in it. You won't get passed security. (This is what you get from a bunch of people who name their political party after a gay sex act.)

But President Obama is listening, he says. Jobs are the priority. Saving the middle class is the priority. Whoa. Nothing like taking a year to figure out what a lot of us have known for oh, say TEN YEARS!! Man, is it that obvious? We need jobs? With unemployment running close to 20%? (I use the unofficial number that would include the unemployed, the underemployed, and those who plain old gave up looking for work.) Is it that obvious that the middle class has been hung out to dry after holding up this country since WWII? Who says Washington is out of touch?

And he's going to start by investing $8 billion in a stimulus package to build a couple of high speed train links. Eight billion. Wow. Of course, compared to the $182.5 billion used to bailout just AIG, just one of the many financial companies our tax dollars saved, $8 billion doesn't look like a lot. BECAUSE IT ISN'T! Eight billion dollars is barely a drop in the bucket.

All right. Phew. Take a breath, Action Bob, and let's set the record straight.

The middle class was left hanging by the government, but guess what, the middle class stuck its own head in the noose as the government held it. But the middle class, more than AIG, more than GM, more than Lehmann Brothers, needs bailing out, because quite simply, without the middle class there will be no more United States. The rich will just go somewhere offshore, though not where their factories are because those countries are inhabited by poor brown people and rich, white people who inhabit Wall Street and the upper echelons of the financial world don't like being around poor brown people.

The middle class actually cut its own throat starting back in the 1980s and of course, greed was at the bottom of it. Reagan and Clinton (just to show I'm not partisan or a liberal) both deregulated the banking industry, that allowed the megainstitutions we have today like CitiGroup come to be. Banks, stock brokers, insurance companies, mortgage companies all came under one roof, and that's a lot of foxes watching a lot of chicken coops. Add a dose of greed and you've got the makings of some delicious disasters.

Corporations began manufacturing and selling offshore, negating the need for the middle class that, since WWII, bought all the crap that American industry was manufacturing with built-in obsolescence.

But here's where the middle class cut its own throat. It bought in to all this because the stock market and the housing market were doing tremendous, and that's where the middle class put all its money. So, even though prices for everything from gas to a college education were going through the roof, it seems the middle class was more focused on their retirement rather than today, and retirement looked pretty good for them. Or so they thought. Now we know that the middle class retirement years were all smoke, and that's where they all went, as in up in smoke.

Eight billion dollars for a couple of high speed train spurs isn't going to cut it to make enough jobs to save the middle class. I'll blog about this again, but it's what I was afraid of: Obama just wasn't the visionary that we needed for this country. And neither was McCain, so all of you Teabaggers just shut up. We're in this together, and the one thing I agree on is it's the people who are going to get us out of this mess. Maybe. Right now, it looks pretty grim, though, doesn't it?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Susan Cattaneo at Sally O'Brien's

Isn't it great when you hear a new musician--well, new to you--and you can't wait to share? Hey, you gotta check this out.

That's what happened to me today when I got this email from someone named Dino C giving me a link to the No Depression site.

Susan Cattaneo is local, as in local to Boston. She teaches songwriting at Berklee, but we won't hold that against her. She doesn't have any videos or other rich media I could steal, so you have to go to her MySpace site to get a good dose of her.

Check out Love Takes What It Takes which starts with a real hard country rock opening and eases into a nice country melody with some pretty standard passages, which all sounds kind of negative the way I just wrote that but her voice and lyrics are sweet and nice and all together it's got the makings of a pop hit. Wrecking Ball is hard and mean and beat up just like the title. Get Back The Longing features Mark Erelli, another local musician who someday, someday, will really get his due. If he's on the disc, it's worth a listen.

She'll be playing at Sally O'Brien's for the next every other Tuesday starting tonight.

Her Band:
Mike Barry: Guitar, vocals
Milt Reder: Guitar
Mark Hickox: Bass
Dave Mattacks: Drums

Her album is Brave and Wild and you can get it here.

On the record:
Lorne Entress: Drums
Duke Levine: Guitar
Kevin Barry: Guitar
Richard Gates: Bass
Dave Limina: Piano and organ
Dave Sholl: Saxophone
Mark Erelli: Lead and background vocals, mandolin on "Get Back The Longing"

Why should I press 1 for English?

On the Red Line this morning, three Asians sat apart from each other but still talked loudly amongst themselves in their native language. I can pretty much read or think over the usual background noise on the train, but their language and their voices—not pretty to my Western ears—seemed designed to cut like a buzz saw through anything: the clanging and rumbling of the old train, my thoughts.

Changing to the D Line at Park, I actually got a seat. Sigh, peace and quiet, I thought, as I pulled out my book. But right across from me, standing in the handicap area, were two young black girls, singing together to a smart phone set to speaker, their voices as persistent as a monk chanting, or a leaky water faucet.

Both times my initial reaction was to shout, Shut the f**k up, would you? Do you see anyone else shouting across the aisle to each other over the course of five stops? Or, What makes you think that just because you think your sappy little song is so deep that everyone else does?

Of course I didn’t shout them down. I took a deep breath because violence and anger don’t accomplish anything, thought to myself that I live in a society and it’s not always about me (as these five other people seemed to think about themselves), and wondered just what was going on here.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard Asians talk noisily among themselves like the black high school students who ride at the back of T coming home on the D line. Just a couple of weeks ago an Asian woman and I had a good laugh because she was sitting next to me but talking to her friends across the aisle and two and three seats down. She was literally shouting in my ear. As with so many disagreements we can find ourselves in when navigating our multinational society, I have a sneaky feeling this was more a rub between cultures than a breach of manners.

And who hasn’t experienced a young person of any race self-absorbed in their music? I mean, it pretty much defines the age group, doesn’t it?—I am going to go out on a limb and say that young people of color will be less inhibited and more inclined to sing out loud on the T than their stiff-necked, uptight, white, Indian, Japanese, just to name a few, counterparts.

Our country is changing so fast, and if it hasn’t happened yet, in the next couple of years people of color—that’s non-Caucasians, you know—are going to outnumber Caucasians. I think that’s one point that the Conservative, predominantly white media keeps forgetting when they crow about their grassroots Teabag movement or when they ask, why should I press 1 for English, or push their Christian values on others. Or even when someone thinks, this ain’t China, this is the Red Line, so act like everyone else.

People keep having babies. Non-Americans keep flying in, settling down, and eventually raising their hand to take the oath to be Americans. (And through studying for their citizenship eventually know more about American history and politics than your average American who can’t find Montana on a map.) Their values and cultural behavior will change the landscape. In liberal California, it was the Latino vote that appeared to kill the gay marriage bill, which to me was not a good thing. Where I live, you can go away for a week, and when you’re getting off the T from your trip from Logan see new businesses have sprouted with signs written in kanji. Is that good or bad? It depends how long you’ve lived in Wollaston.

Hang on to your values, don’t forget your roots, while realizing the one constant in this world—and this country for probably the next twenty years—is change. And there will be those who will want to press their values on others, and there will be those who believe that learning Spanish or any language is a good thing, because learning anything new is a good thing, no different than learning how to cook or play the harmonica or ride a horse.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Biking against the wind: Hope for this country

It's Sunday morning, traditionally a time I would plop down on the couch with a cup of coffee, put on some high-brow concert music (in lieu of church) and read the papers. At least three of 'em.

The news of late--and by "of late" I mean in the past five or six years has been pretty bad. Depressing. Abysmal. Enough to make one desire to run far, far away. Leave the country. My fight or flight reaction is really kicking in and my gut feeling is leave the country to the bohunks who seem to be gathering steam in this country (remember the vitriol from Hillary Clinton's campaign? or the rabid dogs one hears on talk radio and in the conservative press?) Just turn your back on the whole thing.

Can you feel the anger and bile rising in my voice?

Because our country seems to be lacking in some real intelligent discourse. I'm not knocking the current conservative movement. I think it's great that finally, the middle class is rising up and finally taking a real, active part in the political process. What I have a problem with is how they're being led along like sheep. And their anger, their fury seems to come from their desire to preserve the old way, as much as anything. When they rail about the tax and spend Democrats, it seems to me, it comes more from their desire to keep their tax dollars for themselves so they can continue to have their big homes and big cars and big TVs and their swimming pools. It's not from a real altruistic feeling of wanting to make the world a better place. The world is changing, the world has changed, and it seems that the conservative movement in this country is fueled by fear and the desire to go back in time, not forward.

And there are a lot of people in this world right now who cause me to just grind my teeth, because I don't see them as really thinking for themselves. When they talk their politics they just repeat verbatim what they hear Jay Severin mouth on his radio show. I know this because I've listened to him--not so much anymore because I rarely spend time driving anymore, but when I did I would listen to his show. I like to hear all points of view. And, as I said, I would hear people simply parroting exactly what he would say. And people would just repeat his words and somehow they think those words are theirs and they think they're smart, when they're simply walking, talking tape recorders on playback.


There's an actor/filmmaker friend of mine who I met this past fall while performing in a play, and we'd talk. His name is Mark Vashro and he's young and smart and curious-exactly what all people should be. These qualities make it almost impossible for a human being to be angry. And he's been questioning his place in the world and everything that's been going on. So he's decided to ride a bike across the United States. To find out for himself what is going on. Not be spoonfed the answers but question and learn for himself. Yeah, it's a real hippie thing to do. But to me, it's a real American thing to do. Being independent and moving and discovering and being an individual and thinking for yourself. Those are ideals, but when I think of the United States, that's how I think of it. Not angry. Not vindictive. But smart and curious and bold.

People like Mark restore my faith and hope for this country. Because this country was founded for the rights of the individual. And individuals, right now, are few and far between.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stone Soup: January 26 at Club Oberon

Brought to you by those two lovely ladies from New Exhibition Room. Stone Soup is their fundraising event. This is the second one they had--the first's proceeds went to producing Shh!! and presenting it for free, as in you don't have to pay you just walk in and maybe give a donation but if you're too broke or too cheap you don't have to.

Tuesday's Stone Soup is to raise money for their next production, Candyland, and to take Shh!! to the New York Fringe Festival.

It's a great night out. Put on your coolest, hippest clothes and get over to Club Oberon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010
8:00pm - 11:00pm
Club Oberon
2 Arrow Street
Cambridge, MA

Banish those January blues with a hearty dose of our annual potluck feast of the imagination - Stone Soup. Our midwinter theatrical brings together a sampling of local artists creating a healthy helping of musical and theatrical wonders to warm your generous spirits.

What’s in our soup? We’ve brought together the drunken song stylings of The Steamy Bohemians, a pinch of The Movement Workshop Groups’ rock n’ roll meets flamenco piece Wanderlust. Then we’re gonna turn up the heat with the Macabre Cabaret 47 Ways To Die from Aimee Rose Ranger and Veroncia Barron. Then we’re gonna introduce you to The Prions – featuring Chuong Pham, Molly Schreiber and Alex Simoes, and of course we’re gonna spice it nice with UnAmerika’s Sweetheart Karin Webb. And you know who’s stirin’ our pot? The one and only Mary Dolan! Soup’s on people, come and get it!

After the performance stay for dancing! All proceeds from this performance will support our next free original production, Candyland, and the entry of our first show, Shh! into the New York Fringe Festival.

Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door.
Get tix here.

In Development--Sunday for writers, actors and directors

If you find yourself in, or can get yourself to Yarmouth on Cape Cod tomorrow and are into the whole creative process of writing and putting the product on film, you might want to check out In Development.

I got the word from Jenn Pierce who now lives in Sandwich but a few years back directed me in To Kill a Mockingbird out with the Wellesley Players. Jenn is a spirited, thoughtful, creative individual--here's her blog--and the second day of the workshop is open to the public, so it might be worth checking out what Jenn and her merry band of film making pranksters come up with.

Performance artist/filmmaker/painter--is there more?--Micheal Ornstein is part of this creative endeavor, and while I've never met him--hopefully some day I'd like to write about him--I get the sense that whatever he puts his mind and hand to comes out worth noting.

Here's the info from In Development's FaceBook page:

In celebration of Cape Cod's vibrant film, writing and acting scene, a group of writers, actors and directors have come together to form In Development! The group's inaugural workshop will feature actors working closely with directors on first-time readings of original film scripts by Cape-based writers. The workshop's second day is open to anyone interested in a glimpse behind the scenes, into the guts of how writers, directors and actors come together to develop projects. The audience will be encouraged to ask questions and participate in various ways. Refreshments will be served. The event is free with a $5 suggested donation for the Sunday matinee to help defray expenses.

Anyone interested in participating should contact Guy Taylor at A.S Films International, a sponsor of the event, at (508) 776-3283 or email

Friday, January 22, 2010

Brown's victory is a wake up call for a lot of other people besides Democrats

Sometimes the old dog just gets up, scratches a flea or two, and starts snapping at whatever is within his reach. That’s how I felt about myself in the recent special election here in Massachusetts that saw unknown Republican Scott Brown beat established Democrat Martha Coakley 52% to 48%, give or take a tenth of a percentage point or two, for the seat left vacant by Ted Kennedy’s death.

In a previous post I described Brown as “relatively” unknown, but you’ll notice that in the above paragraph I simply referred to him as unknown. What a different a day makes. Compared to his infamy now across the country, he wasn’t just an unknown, he was a nobody.

I used to follow politics the way some people follow sports. And I’d write about politics, on occasion, in freelance columns for the MetroWest Daily News. To call me a political reporter though, would be a mistake akin to calling Brown a political heavyweight. I wasn’t, though in the field of political commentary I probably could hold my weight better than Pretty Boy Brown can in his respective weight class.

I actually remember Brown getting first elected and thinking to myself, What the…? What a lump he presented after his predecessor. Kind of the situation he’s in now, though obviously over the course of those years he’s worked on his presentation skills. He took Democrat Cheryl Jacques seat after she had decided not to run. Now there was a spitfire. Senator Jacques would always return calls, the people she had working for her were sharp, and she always had her facts and opinions straight. I can’t imagine Senator Jacques ever posing nude, or employing some stupid gimmick to get votes like driving around in an old truck when everyone darn well knows you can afford a new one. She was a thinking voters’ politician, and a politician that writers liked. Substance over image. She’s gone on to be a mover and a shaker as a GLBT Civil Rights advocate. Kind of a female Harvey Milk, and that doesn’t surprise me. She was too good for the Massachusetts Legislature.

Thank or curse Brown for this, but he’s renewed my interest in politics. A few other people who I know who I’ve been talking to privately. His win was not only a wake up call for the Democrats, but for a lot of other people, too.


Hope the insomniac in Allentown is happy...

So, who are you, and what are you looking for?

Action Bob...

oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca oaxaca

Arcade Fire--Haiti

Haïti, mon pays,
wounded mother I'll never see.
Ma famille set me free.
Throw my ashes into the sea.

Mes cousins jamais nés
hantent les nuits de Duvalier.
Rien n'arrete nos esprits.
Guns can't kill what soldiers can't see.

In the forest we lie hiding,
unmarked graves where flowers grow.
Hear the soldiers angry yelling,
in the river we will go.

Tous les morts-nés forment une armée,
soon we will reclaim the earth.
All the tears and all the bodies
bring about our second birth.

Haïti, never free,
n'aie pas peur de sonner l'alarme.
Tes enfants sont partis,
In those days their blood was still warm

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

All you liberal Democrats: The sun will come up tomorrow.

Liberals all over Massachusetts are holding suicide watches over each other as relatively unknown Republican Scott Brown won the Senate seat left vacant by Ted Kennedy's passing. It's a bit surprising, but not so much when you really consider what's going on in the country as a whole. Sure, Massachusetts without two liberal senators is like DisneyWorld without two mice (and I don't want to conjecture who's Mickey and who's Minnie in this pair) but despite what people might want to think, Massachusetts isn't all Harvard and Beacon Hill. We have our fair share of chowderheads. And there simply was only one Ted Kennedy. Give him his due, he was a great senator and leader.

And, in case you've been asleep for about ten years, the country as a whole is gravitating a tad right of center.

Nor have Obama and the Democratic majority really been doing the job they were mandated with in the last election. They caved to the health care lobbyists. Wall Street is still running roughshod over Washington. Voters sent a pretty strong message to Washington. They tend to use governors and representatives and senators as messenger boys sometimes.

Democrats have a few things to take heart in. First of all, getting a wakeup call isn't a bad thing. They should learn from it. Voters' love affair with politicians can be fickle. Frankly, Brown strikes me more of a puppet, the candidate du jour, a relative unknown who came on the Republican radar, and was probably told to just shut up, look pretty, and do what he was told as the Republican political machine pumped money and advisers into the race. I mean, face it, he looks great--in uniform, and out.

It's not a full term either. It's not like old Scottie is going to have a lot of time to really make a mark for himself, and while 52% of voters embraced him here, in Washington, as a junior senator, he's going to have to lick a lot of Republican boots. I suggest he check out some Southern senator that runs a weekly prayer group, or something like that, and just keep his head down.

But then you wonder who the heck will or can the Democrats put up against this centerfold in '12. I mean, all they got on the bench are a bunch of old, white, wrinkly guys.

So all you liberal Democrats out there, take heed. The sun will come up tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Benefit for Haiti at Club Passim

*Save the date*

February 9: Benefit for Haiti with

Mark Erelli, Hanneke Cassel, Chris O'Brien and Margaret Glaspy and others to be announced!

Club Passim
47 Palmer St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
Ticket line: 617-492-7679
Office line: 617-492-5300
Parking Info

The Low Anthem on David Letterman

I can't believe I saw these guys a few years back at All Asia on a fluke. I was there to see another band and was walking out the door when they started up. I knew I was hearing something special. I spun on my heels, sat down and listened to their set, got up and was walking out the door when I felt someone grab my shoulder. Ben had come off stage to thank me for listening to them.

Great people. Talented artists. I mean, check it out, the dude is playing a saw on David Letterman.

Here's their site.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Joyful Noise

I used to like to watch people greet each other at the airport. Old friends and family who haven't seen each other in a while. There was always such a spontaneity to their greeting. Some people would just throw themselves at each other, others would be a bit more timid, and you could tell even the ones who might have a bit of a rift between them still experienced something that just brought them together. That's what I saw last night. That spontaneous kind of joy that people just can't resist; it's just there and there's not fighting it.

Last night we checked out Sally O'Brien's in Somerville to see our teacher, Lloyd Thayer, Thea Hopkins, and Bill McQuaid play. All three are such fine, talented, mature musicians, and it was a joy to sit at a table, sip a Harp, and watch three people find simple joy in being together and doing something that gives them so much happiness and fulfillment. Lloyd and Bill both were playing, along with other instruments, steel guitars, both from circa 1930. Beautiful instruments and I was looking at them thinking, who in God's name came up with something like that. Lloyd plays the Dobro and he plays the steel guitar on his lap with a slide and finger picks. Bill holds his like you normally hold a guitar. And just to round things out, Thea brought a Guild D30, that was her baby. We were all talking briefly before the show and I mentioned that just that day I was saw my dream guitar: a Guild D-40. If anyone has $2,000 they want to give me, just let me know.

They played in the round, each taking a turn at a song, sometimes one or the other filling in with an accompaniment on the guitar or vocals or Lloyd on the harmonica.

Bill plays songs almost exclusively from the 1920s and '30s. Well, what'd you expect with that National steel guitar? He's like an archivist, keeping those songs alive, playing and singing them authentically. I, like so many people, have heard recordings of say, Robert Johnson or some old guy like Mississippi John Hurt, and it's all crackly and echoing and that's cool, like ghosts from the past. But Bill brings the songs to life; you're listening just like other folks were hearing them when they were being played live, and the lyrics, in the simple words and phrases like people spoke in those days, and the topics of those day--women, hard times, jail--are eerily relevant today, with today's economy.

Thea Hopkins is such a soulful singer, her voice rich and deep and buttery. She's the one who seemed the most delighted to be on stage, sometimes smiling with her mouth and other times with her eyes in a very childlike way, and as the night wore on she wrapped her lanky frame more around her guitar and sort of slouched in her chair in the most comfortable way. She just was loving every minute of it. She played a lot of her own music, pretty, thoughtful, spiritual melodies. Definitely a feminine voice (again, what did you expect?) but a mature, feminine voice that spoke with wisdom. It's hard to label the kind of music we heard last night--Delta blues, country blues, spiritual, gospel; it all cross pollinates and that's what makes it so wonderful, so impossible to churn it out in a formula like Nashville does with it's corporate country. But Thea seems close to what best can be described as country while she dips her toes into bluegrass, and it was funny that she introduced a Gillian Welch song she was about to play right at the time a friend of ours leaned over and said that she loved the music, loves all music, well, except for country. I just kept my mouth shut. There was no reason to say anything.

Lloyd plays...well, Lloyd last night played a lot in the key of F. He plays Dobro but also lays his steel guitar and an acoustic on his lap and plays them like a slide guitar. Bluesy, soulful--again, it's hard to classify, and I don't know why you'd want to, unless you're saying right now, well, John, if you could be a bit more specific so I could understand what he's like maybe some day I'll go check him out. He also plays a mean harp, again, a lot of blues riffs, so maybe if you're looking for a label let's call him old-timey, Delta blues with a dose of Appalachia thrown in for spice.

I titled this post, Joyful Noise because that's the term given to what a lot of gospel choirs do, giving up a joyful noise to the Lord. I think there's all kind of way of praying and giving thanks and giving recognition to a creator. Then there's that quote, God respects me when I work, but he loves me when I sing. That last one pretty much sums up what we saw last night.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cowboy Junkies--Cause Cheap is How I Feel

Listen to that harmonica intro...

I've listened to this song a hundred times, but it's not until today that I really listened to that intro and really appreciated how hard it is to play, and just how soulful it is, and how important it is to the song, setting the mood and the stage for the story that comes.

More and more music is opening up doors to my mind, helping me see and discover nuances in the world that I just either didn't notice, wasn't privy to, or that now is simply time for me to notice.

But the one thing I've said over and over again is what an underrated songwriter Michael Timmins is. Listen to this song and just try to figure out how he wrote it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Company One's The Good Negro is outstanding, but...

Opening night of Company One's production at the BCA's Plaza Theater of The Good Negro was simply rock solid.

Okay, full disclosures here: I auditioned for the show and actually got a callback, the closest I've come to working for this stellar production company. Right now in Boston, I don't know one actor who doesn't want to work for them. So, my lauding may be taken for simply sucking up for the next audition, right?

Oh c'mon. You guys know me better than that. Keep reading please.

First, I love the script. Loved it from the first time I read it and couldn't put it down. It's everything I like in a script. Social conscious set against a real historical moment, in this case the civil rights movement, taking place in the South, specifically, Birmingham, Alabama in 1962. It's fast-paced, highly emotionally charged, with layers of good and evil. I mean, check out the title. There are really sweet moments in the script that shows that playwright Tracey Scott Wilson is fully in charge, like the scene at the end of the play when Pelzie, the one character who speaks in Southern country--to the point where sometimes you're sitting there thinking, what the heck did he just say?--the one character who isn't allowed to speak at rallies, the one black character who isn't articulate and in charge in some way, explains what it means to be good. Explains to the Rev. Lawrence, the MLK-like character, what he has to do to fight segregation. Such a sweet, sweet scene. And by the way, James Milord just nails that scene.

Every character is nicely delineated to compose an ensemble, and every actor has done such a wonderful job developing his and her character, living in the characters' skins, so that when the characters are working side by side each is illuminated not only by the actor playing the character, but the other actors on stage. It is so great to see something like that on stage.

And I can't bring myself to highlight one actor over the other. It's enough to say that it's a wonderful ensemble I saw tonight, one that kept the super-charged pace of the show going, going, and going, without letup. It was opening night, so unless an asteroid hits the earth in the next four weeks, this show is only going to get better.


I can't not mention this; it was too noticable and irritating. The show is presented in the BCA's Plaza Theater. Kind of a a weird space, with seats sort of wrapping around the stage in a thrust. There are also two big support posts you have to deal with as a director and set designer. I was sitting far house left. One seat away from as far house left as you could get, and basically I watched the entire play with the actors backs to me, or else they were lined up so that the actor nearest me was blocking the far stage actor and I didn't see that other actor at all.

Okay, I got comps to the show. I can't expect free tickets down center. (Wait, yes I can; that's where I sat for Fences.) Anyway, tomorrow night, a paying customer is going to be sitting in that seat, and is going to be severely cheated. Basically the entire show is blocked for the audience straight out and on the corners. Any actor who has worked on that stage (me, for instance) is constantly reminded by the director to remember the right and left seats. That is a collossal bummer.

So, in the end, it's an amazing production that's only going to get better. The actors and crew should all be so proud, and hopefully they're all toasting themselves tonight. But if you go, and particularly if you're paying the full price of $33, make sure you sit center or near center.

Mexacali Blues--The Grateful Dead

She said her name was Billie Jean and she was fresh in town
I didn't know a stage line ran from Hell
She had raven hair, a ruffled dress, a necklace made of gold
All the French perfume you'd care to smell

...sound like anyone you know?...

The Grateful Dead from 1978...the images are like ghosts, perhaps as they should be...

Songwriters: Barlow, John Perry;Weir, Robert Hall

Layin' back in an old saloon, with a peso in my hand
Watchin' flies and children on the street
And I catch a glimpse of black-eyed girls who giggle when I smile
There's a little boy who wants to shine my feet

And it's three days ride from Bakersfield and I don't know why I came
I guess I came to keep from payin' dues
So instead I've got a bottle and a girl who's just fourteen
And a damn good case of the Mexicali blues, yeah

Is there anything a man don't stand to lose
When the devil wants to take it all away
Cherish well your thoughts
And keep a tight grip on your booze
'Cause thinkin' and drinkin' are all I have today

She said her name was Billie Jean and she was fresh in town
I didn't know a stage line ran from Hell
She had raven hair, a ruffled dress, a necklace made of gold
All the French perfume you'd care to smell

She took me up into her room and whispered in my ear
"Go on, my friend, do anything you choose"
Now I'm payin' for those happy hours I spent there in her arms
With a lifetime's worth of the Mexicali blues, yeah


And then a man rode into town, and some thought he was the law
Billie Jean was waitin' when he came
She told me he would take her, if I didn't use my gun
I'd have no one but myself to blame

I went down to those dusty streets, blood was on my mind
I guess that stranger hadn't heard the news
'Cause I shot first and killed him, Lord, he didn't even draw
And he made me trade the gallows for the Mexicali blues, yeah

Is there anything a man don't stand to lose
When he lets a woman hold him in her hands
He just might find himself out there on horseback in the dark
Just ridin' and runnin' across those desert sands

Lloyd Thayer playing at Sally O'Brien's this Sunday

My music teacher, Lloyd Thayer, will be playing this Sunday at Sally O'Brien's this Sunday. Lloyd is a teacher I've had for music theory and now for harmonica. (He didn't tell me the harmonica was like a crack pipe; it just calls to you and you can't put it down.)

Check out the YouTube vid at the end of this post, to meet Lloyd. He's a great guy, great teacher, and a wonderful musician.

Anyway, here's the scoop on Lloyd playing this Sunday:

I will be appearing at Sally O'Brien's in Somerville this Sunday from 8-11pm. I"ll be playing "in the round" with Bill McQuaid and Thea Hopkins, which means I'll be learning songs on the fly and trying to stay out of the way, much like we did in class on Tuesday. Anything could happen, and more than likely I will play no guitar, and I should do at least one solo harmonica piece, ie nothing but harmonica...........

Best of all, admission is FREE, and there are no tab sheet handouts.

Hope to see you there



lloyd Thayer
in the round with Bill McQuaid and Thea Hopkins
335 Somerville Ave., Union Sq. Somerville 02145
617 666 3589

Check out Audrey Ryan this Sunday at Club Passim (1.17)

It's the long weekend so you probably have Monday off for MLK Day, so get your heinie over to Club Passim and check out Audrey Ryan if you haven't seen this eclectic, alt/indie performer.

I saw her a few months back for the first time and was thoroughly impressed and entertained (that's the important word; who the heck wants to sit there like a stiff neck and be bored to tears by some high-brow malarkey, even if it is Cambridge??) And I was delighted. That's a good thang.

Here's what she has to say about the gig:

Club Passim this Sunday with my friend Richard Julian from NYC. It's an early show and should run from about 8 to 11pm. I'll be playing first. Because I only get to experience a true listening room like Passim a few times a year, I'm going to take advantage and play a few tunes on ukulele, banjo, and of course accordion in addition to the usual guitar/loop/percussion.

Hopefully many of you have Monday MLK day off, so this a long weekend. Hope to see you there, buy tickets in advance if you can ( as they're a bit cheaper than at the door.

Sunday, January 17th @8pm sharp
Club Passim
47 Palmer St., Havard Square
*I play 8-9:15pm
**Richard will play 9:30-10:30pm


Cape Cod & Islands Refelctions by Christopher Seufert

Cape Cod is a state of mind. You cross the bridges and you're not only in a different place geographically, you're also someplace inside your head. I don't have a single bad memory from Cape Cod. Isn't that extraordinary?

From Joel Meyerowitz to the weekend snapshooter, I don't think it would possible to take a bad photograph there.

Publisher: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.
Author: Christopher Seufert
Format: Hardcover, 128pp
ISBN-13: 9780764334054
ISBN: 0764334050

Synopsis: Over 200 color photos provide a unique perspective on life in and around Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Enjoy colorful tours of Provincetown, Nantucket, Orleans, Martha's Vineyard, Brewster, Eastham, Chatham, Harwich, Falmouth, Sandwich, Dennis, and Barnstable; beaches of Cape Cod National Seashore, Dionis, Nauset, Red River, Lighthouse, and Outer Beach; wildlife refuges, regional wildlife, harbors, lighthouses, lobster shacks, architectural gems, and much more.

Biography: Christopher Seufert is a photographer based in Cape Cod. This is his fifth book.

Get it here.

Thunder Road: The Cowboy Junkies

I'm not a big Springsteen fan, but I do love this song. And I love the way Bruce lays down a power grind of this song, but there's nothing like a new take, a new perspective, the kind the Junkies put on the song. Margot's mournful voice makes you realize it ain't all Jersey and cars. And I and see Michael sitting next to her, head down, concentrating the way does, feeling every nuance...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Of being an individual and self-censorship

There’s a new workout class at the Quincy Athletic Club. It’s called BodyPump. It’s all the buzz. It was introduced this past weekend, and suddenly there were all of these buff, good-looking people strutting around in black Lycra. Before there was a weight class taught by a woman named Carolyn. She was a South Shore Girl complete with accent, thin and taunt and a scrawny little butt, a bit rough and she drove an SUV with a Harley sticker on it. I liked Carolyn and I liked Carolyn’s class. Sometimes I might have been the only guy in the class, or maybe one of maybe three. But she’d kick my ass. I learned a long time ago from road running that the sex of an athlete doesn’t mean a thing. The road or the court or the mountain doesn’t care what you carry between your legs. And Carolyn’s class was a good workout, and it got me on the road to slowly getting back in shape.

But as of last week, Carolyn is gone and a multi-million dollar corporate extravaganza has moved in. There’s a stage and on the stage is a buff blonde with one of those little mikes that all the pop stars use, and the music—if you want to call it that—is throbbing and loud. She exhorts the class of (mostly) out of shape endomorphs who less fashionably dressed than she, even the ones who think they’re fashionably dressed for the gym with “Come on, squeeze it” and “Whoo!” Thank God for iPods that I can drown it all out with John Fogerty and the Chili Peppers. And people are standing outside the class, curious, to see what it’s all about. You see, everyone is curious because, it’s all the buzz.

And I’ll probably start going to the class, eventually. After all the buzz has died and the early adopters have moved on to something new. Something else to sate their thirst for the buzz. For the scene. I’ll go because I’m sure it’s a great class and I do believe that Eric, one of the guys who runs the place, is dedicated and passionate about health and fitness. And Sue tried it and it kicked her ass, and she’s in pretty fair shape. She was working out and Eric came over to her and told her there was an extra spot she could have in the class if she wanted it. Sure Eric has to eat and run a business so it behooves him to make BodyPump successful, but he’s also thinking of his clients. You get that kind of personal service there.

It’s the buzz I can’t stand, and every time I hear it I start looking for the money and the big corporate juggernaut behind it because that buzz is the noise it makes as it comes crashing in. Like the noise I’ve heard missiles make when they come out of the sky; they make the sound of a piece of paper tearing.

And that’s exactly the sound I heard last week on Facebook when women were writing down the color of their bras. I heard that buzz. But I didn’t say anything because it was about breast cancer—a very liberal cause—and I knew if I said anything like I’m doing now I would be branded a jerk and a chauvinist or worse. I would be shown for what I really am, and what I’m not. I’m not a liberal. I have learned that in this country you have to watch the left as much as you watch the right. And truth be told I thought I’d be branded by a lot of people who I not only like, but want to like me to. So I censored myself, a horrible thing to do.

I heard that buzz last week because breast cancer is right up there with saving the whales and the children in the liberal world, just like saving the flag is to the conservatives. And just to try to stem the hue and cry, I think breast cancer is a horrible disease, and I really like whales and children. I was once a child myself and I actually raised two of my own. And I wish breast cancer could be cured and I wish whales wouldn’t be going extinct and I wish every child a great future. I just don’t like it rammed down my throat in the same way I don’t like Christianity rammed down my throat.

I don’t like breast cancer rammed down my throat because, frankly more women die of heart disease which takes more women (and men) than breast cancer. (It killed my father.) Cervical cancer kills more women. Lung cancer does, which killed my mother. Breast cancer is in the forefront of our consciousness I’m willing to bet because of some really good PR work. It ranks seventh in terms of mortality in women. Breast cancer also kills men, too, a fact that reminds me of 9-11. People died in the Pentagon and in that field in Pennsylvania, but the World Trade Towers get all the attention. While breast cancer does kill more women than men, by giving all the attention to women are we saying the men just don’t count?

I just have a real aversion to really good PR work, along with lobbyists, even when the buzz is for a really good cause, like breast cancer. And that feeling comes from my very soul. Who I am. I hate to be manipulated, which is exactly what viral marketing like the breast cancer/Facebook campaign tried to do, but in a “cool, fun, hip way.” (The campaign wasn’t even that successful, if you look at the numbers presented in a Washington Post article. This blog on certain days posts better numbers than that.) I hate it when anyone even tries to manipulate me. I’ve never been a joiner, never wanted to be a part of the crowd. The crowd frankly, gives me, in the words of Mark Twain, the fantods.

And you know, I think society needs more people like me. Someone a bit cynical. A bit distrustful. The devil’s advocate. A contrarian. Someone who, when everyone is zigging, instead zags.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Girls Guns and Glory: 667

You can catch them tomorrow night at The Pressman in Portsmouth, NH and on the 23rd at the Paradise.

Cool stuff to do this weekend

I don't follow the Patriots, Bruins, Celtics, or Red Sox, don't own a TV, and I have an extremely short attention span. Here are a couple of things that caught my eye that I might be checking out this weekend.

First, buddy Jason will be playing in the Boston Celtic Music Festival. After living in Boston for 29 years, I think I've heard enough Celtic music to last for the rest of my life. Like when I was living in Athens, Ohio, enough of the bluegrass. But something like the BCM will attract the best of the best, there's nothing like watching people at the top of the game who are really passionate about what they're doing. I'll try to hook up with Jason on Saturday. He's backing Kyte MacKillop and Friends.

A. Nora Long, a co-founder of the New Exhibition Room, via Facebook did a shoutout on Bent Wit Cabaret this Sunday at the Oberon Theater in Cambridge. From their site: Every Second Sunday of the month from January through May 2010, Axe To Ice Productions brings you the cabaret to end all cabarets! Find a funny arrangement of ever-changing multimedia artists trying to work out some kind of theme for you... Bawdy, beautiful, delicious, and disastrous- always come expecting the unexpected! Hosted by Mary Dolan and and UnAmeriKa's Sweetheart Karin Webb!

Axe To Ice was created by the two cabaret-producing, gender-bending, clown-like character actors Karin Webb and Jill Gibson. The company seeks to create, support, and produce art that causes an audience to question and to think, to be struck in the moment, and to bring their experiences into action in their own communities.

A bit more: From the team that brought the smashing successes “Mary Dolan Presents…Vaudeville!” and “Boiling Point Burlesque” comes a series so warped and smart it could only be dubbed “Bent Wit”! January 10th marks the premiere of this monthly engagement of variety shows at Club Oberon, each in turn bringing a new theme for our artists to dismantle and put back together, and led by the live House Band, Elephant Tango Ensemble.

And speaking of New Exhibition Room, they'll be presenting another Stone Soup: A Hearty Theatrical on Tuesday, January 26 at Oberon. Get ur tix here.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Paul Kahn, playwright

I heard the other day that Paul Kahn passed on on New Year's of respiratory failure. Paul was a Boston-area playwright, plus I'm sure other things--he was quite the remarkable human being. But he came into my life as a playwright, and that's the only way I knew him.

I met him when I was asked to perform in a play he wrote. I'm embarrassed to say that I can't remember the name of it, or the name of the character I played--a Holocaust survivor who won an award for a book the character wrote. John Tierney, another fine community theater actor played my agent/publisher, and Kate Blair played my wife. Michelle Aguillon, who was the one who asked me to take the role and president of The Hovey Players, a community theater in Waltham, Mass., directed, and we performed the piece at the Acme Theater in Maynard at a festival of ten-minute plays David Sheppard was putting on. David still runs that theater today.

Enough of circling around the details.

It was a sweet piece, with a lot of emotion and a nice story line that carried the characters up to the climax and set us back down hard on the other side. We all loved the play, and we were rehearsing the hell out of it one night in the upstairs room at the Abbott Theater where the Hovey Players live when Paul stopped by to see the rehearsal. At that point not even Michelle had met him.

It was a shock to meet him. Not that Paul noticed or probably could have cared less. Paul rode in a wheelchair that was like a Sherman tank. It had to be big, not that Paul was that big, but because I guess it had to carry all his shit. Batteries to drive the thing, and his oxygen and all that. And the thing was, that night it was pouring buckets, so Paul and the whole apparatus was covered in this big poncho or tarp or something with just Paul's head sticking out of this hole in the center of the tarp. I mean, it was just kind of like this head floating around. It appeared to be a struggle for Paul to talk. The words came out slow and his head jerked around when he talked, and his eyes bugged out of his head when he formed words. But with all that coming into the room, also came his personality, his wit, his intelligence, his charm, his insight, his energy, his peace, his passion, and his determination.

We worked that freakin' play that night, with Paul's help, and when he was leaving he told us a true story, that he had recently been to a Halloween party where he went as--are you ready for this?--the head of St. John the Baptist. God, that man could make me laugh.

I worked with Paul one time after that, when I did a staged reading of a poem he wrote. I'd go over to his house, where I met Ruth, his wife. We'd chat a bit, then Paul and I would go off and rehearse. There was a gentle calmness that pervaded their home. I'll always remember that.

He was such a talent, but I think what struck me most about him was his inspirational quality, which I suspect he might take as an insult. But, you see, about the time I met him, I was going through some pretty dark times emotionally, and suddenly it seemed to me I was working with Paul and another beautiful artist who, coincidentally was a quadruple amputee. I'm not the kind of person who believes people "are put into your life for a reason." I don't believe in some grand puppetmaster. But I remember observing these two as they worked, and thinking to myself, they had to overcome some immense physical obstacles. The way they look on the outside is the way I look on the inside. I have to do emotionally what they did physically.

That's what Paul did for me and he never knew it.

He'll be missed by a lot of people. I wish I could have worked with him more. Because, man that guy could make me laugh.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A site about angry people in local newspapers

“I feel sorry for local news photographers. They are hugely skilled and poorly paid, and sent out to photograph miserable people pointing at dog turds. Here, we celebrate their work.”

I wouldn't go so far as to say there is any great work here, it's just funny to look at some the images and know what the photographer was going through.

Many years back I freelanced as a Question of the Week photographer/writer for the MetroWest Daily News. With reporter's notebook and camera in hand, usually wearing fingerless gloves because I was out there in all kinds of weather, I'd stand outside a local grocery store or mall or public place, stop people and ask them a question relating to current events. Something like, "Has the current economic climate affected the way you're going to spend for Christmas?" then dutifully write down their answers and take their picture, with a notation in my notebook next to their quote to be able to match their photo with their quote. Something like, middle-aged man with big honking nose, or woman with really ugly hat.

I think I needed to get about eight quotes, which meant you usually had to stop about four times that many people because first, if you could get someone to actually talk to you they might not have anything interesting to say, or they'd say something that five other people had already said. Then there were the people who would yammer on and on and I'd be scribbling like mad then take their picture and then ask for their name and hometown to put with the quote, and they'd look horrified and say, "You're not going to put that in the paper, are you?" You'd want to say, "No, I'm standing out here in this shitty weather simply because I really want to know what YOU think." People are amazing, they truly are.

So, when I saw this site I just got reminded of all those days, working in all kinds of weather for peanuts simply because I loved to write.

Here's the site. Enjoy.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Web 2.0 Suicide Machine: When you want to kill your online persona

This machine lets you delete all your energy sucking social-networking profiles, kill your fake virtual friends, and completely do away with your Web2.0 alterego.

Facebook. Linkedin. Twitter. Even freakin' cell phones. When I travel now, I leave them all at home. And it's a bit weird at first, but in only a day or two I really relish the feeling of just being the "old me" in the "old world." Not constantly reaching for the laptop to check my email or my blog analytics to see who's been reading my blog, and yes, especially Facebook, that voyeuristic time suck where I, as of this writing, currently have 401 "friends".

It's social networking, but the thing is, I've never really been that social. Ever. I've always been kind of a loner, with only one or two really good friends. I like the fringe. Even at my old full- time job at Digitas, I kid you not: I received low marks on my review because I didn't socialize, i.e. go out drinking after hours. (The place was actually one huge frat house.) I am who I am, and I got nailed for it.

I joined Facebook while at Digitas because I wanted to learn more about social networking and the digital space. (Gee, I was actually very interested in the job and the work, see.) Anyway, it took me only about a week to figure the whole thing out. Sue used to train dogs. When she was a teen she was a champion sheltie trainer. And she told me this little secret: That the way to get a dog to do a trick is simply to get it to do what come naturally.

And that's exactly what Facebook does.

Humans are natural voyeurs. We're very interested in the other person. So Facebook sets up an online environment where we can all mill around and look at each other lives through posts and pictures and videos, and it's very alluring. And while we spend all that time there we're sitting ducks for advertisers and online media companies and anybody else who wants to sell us something, or worse, sell us (our info and our content) to someone else. Facebook actually is more insidious than that old technology, television, which was a very simple advertising medium. People still think the programs are entertainment, but as soon as you realize and fully understand that televison (network and cable) is an advertising medium first, not an entertainment vehicle, and that the programming is simply to attract you for the advertisers, you have it all figured out.

But I hang on to Facebook because right now because it is the way to stay in touch in the early 21st century. I'm not some survivalist who wants to completely drop off the map, though I must say I have those tendencies and maybe someday may act on them. And when I do, I can commit digital suicide. And I wonder if it won't be the freeing experience of my life.

web 2.0 suicide machine promotion from moddr_ on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The New Year: Plans or Just Dreaming

The New Year. The beginning of a new decade.

Winter in New England, on a cold, snowy day. Not much to do. While the snow we just got was predicted to keep falling until midnight tonight, by 2:00 this afternoon we were looking at clear blue skies. I've never understood how the weather forecasters can be so consistently wrong. It's the reason I just stopped planning around them.

But still, on a day like today, there isn't a lot to do. I hate snow, and the cold and the wet. I’m solar powered. I like the sun and the hot. So we do what so many people do in New England in the winter and stay indoors and read and play music or surf the net. Just chill. Winter in New England, some say, is for recharging. For making plans.

And well, planning has been a problem of late. Plans are something you can make when you have resources. Otherwise, it's just dreaming.

Work this past year has been a struggle as it's been for so many around the world. The Europeans refer to this economy as, The Crisis. It was a year ago December 11th that I got laid off. And I thought I'd be able to find work and make some sort of living freelancing. I really didn't want to go back to an office. And I did cobble some work together freelancing--all small jobs or part-time contacts--supplemented by unemployment insurance. But the work simply isn't there, full-time, part-time, contract. Despite what the government is saying, this depression is still here. Companies are still laying off--Digitas, where I got laid off, has already scheduled more layoffs for March. People have been notified.

Then last week when my unemployment ran out and I filed for an extension, I learned that my unemployment, because I actually worked, was cut by more than 50%. If I hadn't worked, making the small bit of money that I made, roughly 50% of what I was making at the agency, I would have continued receiving the benefits I received in the past year for another 21 weeks. In other words, if I had just sat on this couch and written plays like I really wanted to, I would have still made a fair living, at least for another 21 weeks. The system really is set up to reward people for not working.

So, how are you supposed to make plans, when you're scrapping from week to week, sometimes day to day?

The economy causes me to wake me up in the middle of the night with worry about what happens if I get sick, or what's going to happen to me in ten years when I'm ready to retire with no savings. I can barely meet my expenses as it is, and I still have two college-age kids who look at me and, while they probably don't mean to, make me feel absolutely helpless for not being to pay for even part of the colelge. The economy can frustrate me because, when I finally found someone who shares the same hopes and dreams that I've had for so long, that we may not be able to see our dreams to fruition.

The economy also forces me to think differently about what I can and can't do. I'm seriously questioning my ability to make a (real) living as a corporate writer as I have for the last 29 years. Despite all of those years of experience, I don't have a masters in communications that hiring managers seem to be looking for at the get-go. And, while you can't prove age discrimination, when you interview with someone over half your age, you can see it in their eyes. It's not always about the diploma.

The new decade may give some people hope. Some are so glad to kiss the first decade of the 21st century good bye with its 9-11 and recession. But a new swing around the sun isn't going to change what's going on in this country. And a new swing around the sun is not going to mean anything to me. The only differences I can make are in the changes inside me. How I approach this new world that so many people seem blind to. I've never been a quitter. I'm not quitting. But I do get awfully dejected at times.

Channeling ‘Gatsby,’ word by word, hour by hour - The Boston Globe

Channeling ‘Gatsby,’ word by word, hour by hour - The Boston Globe

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Blame Sally: Pajaros Sin Alas

I've been a big fan of Blame Sally since we saw them a few months back at Club Passim.

Here's a video of a live performance in Colorado - this song will be on Blame Sally's next album. It's called "Pajaros Sin Alas", which means "bird without wings".

Friday, January 1, 2010

January 1, twenty-ten

January 1st. Twenty-ten. A new year. A new decade. A time for reflection over the past decade. (Ten freakin' years go by--just like that ) A time for resolution.

I haven't blogged for a while, for a reason. It was getting too personal, too close to the bone, and frankly, I was afraid of hurting people. When things aren't going right in your life there's no reason to air your dirty laundry in a blog. There's shared experience, yes. But there is also a time and place for everything. And frankly, I'm as much to blame as the other person.

Pretty cryptic, huh? But the fact of the matter, I'll tell you this right now, is this: If you're reading this and you think it's you, it isn't. Because everyone in my life who is close to me and who I talk to and hang out with and party with and act with and play music with and share ideas with: You know who you are. Compared to ten years ago, I'm a pretty lucky individual just to be alive, and I make no bones about it. I didn't hit bottom, but I did see the bottom racing up to meet me right before the bungee cord snapped me back up.

The last decade contained for me some of the worst times of my life and the some of the best (howdy-do, Sue.) And frankly, I'm glad to kiss the first decade of the 21st century adios. But I'm a bit apprehensive about the coming decade. I keep wondering if 100 years ago, in 1910, when the Industrial Revolution was kicking in and our country's rural/agrarian life was fading as people moved to the cities and the god-like automobile was making our lives more mobile and interesting and life was changing dramatically (like it is today) if the everyday Joe knew in a scant four years there'd be the first world war? Then the Twenties (which were a bust; thank you Calvin Coolidge, the Twentieth Century's first George Bush), then the Great Depression (like Michelle Shock asks, What was so great about it?), then WWII. In other words, 100 years ago we were on the precipice of about forty years of suck. It was only after WWII that the prosperity that spawned America's arrogance kicked in, which led to the greed of biblical proporations that we're reeling from.

Nice happy thoughts on New Year's, huh?

Ah, for chrissakes, John, give it up for a day, won't you?

You're right. Give it a rest for a day. I'm long enough in the tooth to know that I'll have plenty of reasons to gripe and complain and predict gloom and doom because I know my fellow human beings will be a constant source of...of...inspiration. LOL.

Anyway, it's January 1 of a new decade. I am, as I like to say, a hopeful cynic. I hope that things turn out all right, while every bone in my body tells me otherwise. That's pretty much how I face life everyday. That's why I have that little crooked smile on my face so often.
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