Once Twice

 

Arthur Darvill & Joanna Christie

 

 

I’ve been on a theatre tear of late. In the past few weeks I’ve seen six shows, attempting to make up for some time spent in hibernation mode. This happens sometimes.  I got mired in whatever I happen to be working on at the moment and have to be gently nudged back to civilization by my friends.  The joy of sitting in the dark of a theatre with my favorite people experiencing a transcendent moment of performance is a small miracle that brings an all too rare feeling of perfect contentment that I can squirrel away for a rainy day.

 

 

Once is definitely one of those small miracles. It had been on my list of things to see ever since it opened, and I finally got the chance to see it. Actually I’ve seen it twice in the last couple of weeks. I saw it and was completely charmed by it the first time, so much so, that I immediately wanted to see it again just to determine whether it was a crush or true love. Luckily, Michele B. breezed through town last week, and we decided to go to the theatre together. A treat in itself because usually we’re working so hard when we’re together we hardly have time for anything else. Even though I had just seen Once, when it came up on her list of possibles I leapt at the chance to go back. And yes, I discovered that it is indeed true love.

 

 

There’s so much to love here. It’s a one set show that bucks the trend of bigger, louder, faster, with an unconventional love story at its heart.  The innovative use of movement and the pop score with shades of Celtic and Eastern European musical forms make it feel both brand new and traditional all at the same time (my personal aspiration as a musician). The songs are used not so much to move the plot forward as in a traditional musical, but act as subtext and back-story.

 

 

What I think made me fall head over heels though, was what the show has to say about soul mates. This isn’t the idea of the romantic soul mate that charges into your life and sweeps you away to live happily ever after (sorry for the spoiler, but the show doesn’t end with the time-honored happy ending), but the promise of an Artistic Soul Mate. That person that enters your world for a brief time be it a few years, months, days or even hours, and in that time inspires you to see yourself in a new way. Sometimes they’re romantic partners, there must needs be chemistry in all things after all, but more often the love affair they inspire is with your art. The Artistic Soul Mate can appear right at the point of abject creative despair and instinctively they are able to kindle the spark that brings you back from the brink. An Artistic Soul Mate just gets you, no explanation necessary.

 

 

I’ve been lucky to have a few of these in my life, people who could see me clearly even when I couldn’t. Whose words and deeds pointed me in the direction I needed to travel. I will forever adore Once for the reminder that such people are out there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Flowers in Life’s Garden

 

 

Karen June Grant & Zandra Zuraw of Little Yellow Couch

Karen June Grant & Zandra Zuraw of Little Yellow Couch

 

 

Today is a wonderful day! This is the day I officially join forces with the engaging and oh, so creative Karen June Grant and Zandra Zuraw on their design blog Little Yellow Couch. LYC is chock full of terrific ideas for decor, food, and entertaining all centered around a monthly theme. I will be chiming in as their Musical Correspondent. This month’s theme, Flora & Fauna, was a doozy for a known plant killer such as I. In fact, my landscape designer pal nearly walked into midtown traffic when I shared the subject of my first post with him. It turned out that the opportunity to write about the connection between music and gardening inspired me in ways I never thought possible. I’m enormously thankful to Karen June and Zandra both for the opportunity to add my two cents to their wonderful site, and for helping me discover something I never knew about myself in the process. Click HERE to check out my May post, meanwhile, I’m off to the garden center!

 

 

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Rainy Day Diversion

 

 

 

There are Legos up and down my stairs, and string cheese in my refrigerator, that can only mean one thing…the Niece and Nephews are in residence. They’ve come to be spoiled for a few days by their Auntie Wendy Mame while their parents enjoy a child-free weekend. The best part about this arrangement (in addition, to feeding them much candy, and allowing them to stay up inappropriately late) is that I get to revisit all my favorite kid type things, starting with The Muppet Show . On this rainy day what could be better than curling up under a cozy blankie with some gummy bears and giggling over the antics of Animal & Rita Moreno? I suggest you grab your nearest warm snugglie and favorite  treat and do the same.

 

 

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Things Can Only Get Better

 

 

 

 

Photo by Cindy Banescu - Creative Focus

Photo by Cindy Banescu – Creative Focus

 

 

 

This month’s 60 Minutes / Vanity Fair  poll asked the question, Which decade had the worst music?  The number one answer, by 42%, was this decade. No other decade listed (from the 1970s to the 2000s) came anywhere close. This got me to thinking, are we really in the midst of the greatest musical drought ever known?

 

When I asked Spawn, he opined that his generation, with the exception of himself and a few of his friends, had the worst musical taste of anyone anywhere. Ironically, Spawn listens to a lot of the same music I listened to when I was his age. The age from whence springs a vivid memory of my grandmother yelling ,Good Lord, somebody give that girl an aspirin, after I played some insipid pop anthem for the four hundredth straight time. So, really can this decade’s musical offerings be all that much worse?

 

 

Certainly, as the music industry has become ever more corporatized, emphasis has shifted to manufacturing trends rather that the good hard work of discovering what’s new and innovative. Record companies are no longer run by people who truly love music (I’m not saying that these same people always treated their artists with the respect and royalties they deserved but that’s something we can discuss another time), but by multi-national parent corporations whose interest is the bottom line and creating a “product” that can be leveraged across numerous other industries that have little or nothing to do with creating memorable music. Do you really believe your favorite pop star has the time to personally design a line of clothes and write a novel and start a charity and host a cooking show all the while updating the myriad of social media needed to maintain “relevance” AND create great music?

 

 

Technology has been a double-edged sword for the music business, bringing the cost of recording down and providing new outlets for the distribution of material. For talented independent artists this has been a great blessing. At the same time, it’s opened the way for lots and lots and lots of mediocre to bad stuff to flood the market, making it difficult for a noteworthy artist to cut through the dissonance. You can be a huge hit on Social Media not by being a master of your art but by creating something so cringe-inducingly terrible that it goes viral.

 

 

 

So having said all this you’d think I’d come down on the side of those who feel that this is the worst time since history began for music. I don’t. Though optimism is not my natural state I’m exercising it here. I am retaining my hope in the power of good music to triumph over so-so.

 

 

First of all, there has always been bad music. It’s just that what happens over the course of time is that the bad stuff falls away leaving only the good stuff behind. Go into any used bookstore and pick up a pile of sheet music and you’ll see what I mean. For every well crafted tune that you remember fondly, no matter what your era, you’ll find at least five times as many that should never have seen the light of day let alone been  published. Yes, every now and then you’ll find an undiscovered gem in one of those piles, but the work required to find it is immense. I speak from personal experience here. A friend once told me that sometimes songs get “lost” for a reason. Let’s call it musical Darwinism.

 

 

Secondly, the musical choices are available to us are incredible. The old ideas of a few narrowly defined genres are slowly giving way to the understanding that there is an infinite musical variety out there.  As those barriers are broken down we’ll see more and collaborations across musical borders. For this alone, it’s a very exciting time to be a musician.

 

 

Thirdly, and finally I think that music lovers must realize that any music worth hearing is worth searching for. The best music is out there waiting for you to discover it, but it takes some effort on your part to find. Going to the website or blog of an artist you admire and finding out who they like is a good start. Ask your friends what they like to listen to and why. See a live performance at a local venue. It can be a bar, or a theatre or concert hall, a well known performer, or one who’s up and coming, it doesn’t matter. Just look for something that sparks your interest.  Want an evening in? Take a look at sites like Stage It or Concert Window. These sites allow you to experience a wide variety of performances from the comfort of your own computer. See what’s available at your local public library. Most have a great variety of music available and you can experiment to your heart’s content for free. See if your library has a section devoted to local performers, and check out some of their work. I am just throwing these ideas out there to get you started thinking about new ways to experience music beyond simply turning on the radio or I-Pod, there are lots more where this came from.

 

 

Despite, grumbling and gloom and doom predictions about the death of music I think there is a lot out there that is worth our time. As long as there are people who really care about what they listen to there will be great music to be had.

 

 

 

 

 

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Goodbye Old Paint

 

 

cabinet

 

 

 

 

I like painting furniture.  I find the process of cleaning, sanding, and painting soothing.  I have a hard time turning off what I call Hamster Brain, when your mind spins and spins caught in a loop of worries like a rodent on an exercise wheel complete with annoying squeaking sound.  Something about the physical motion required to transform a piece quiets that squeaking right down. Maybe it’s the repetitive movement, maybe it’s the fumes, whatever it is seems to set my overtaxed mind free to roam in more creative directions. I have had some of my best ideas this way.

 

 

I love the history of old pieces. My latest project is a Hoosier Cabinet from the 30’s or 40’s. The woman I got it from remembered watching her grandmother roll out pie crusts and knead bread dough on its counter.  On the back is the original label from the cabinet maker in Pennsylvania along with the tag from the furniture store in Newark from which is was purchased.  She’s the perfect addition to our little house which was built in 1928.

 

 

She (it just feels like a she to me) has been patiently waiting for me in my garage since the fall. A little like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree she is in dire need of some TLC, but she’s got great bones. There are some structural things that need repairing and then she’ll be painted. I went to Home Depot yesterday and filled a bag with paint samples and I’m beginning the arduous process of deciding on the perfect color. My kitchen is a butter cream with pops of red in the chairs and accessories. If you have any ideas you’re welcome to post them in the comments. In the meantime, I’ll be repairing and sanding away.

 

 

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Playing with Blocks

 

 

Creative Block

 

 

 

 

LA was lovely, it was warm and sunny, I walked on the beach, ate tons of fresh veggies and concentrated completely on work. Absolute Heaven! Returning to an, as yet, delayed spring, a thousand undone domestic tasks and a space in the calendar before my next projects kick into gear brought on a serious case of post-gig ennui.  I allowed myself a day or two to wallow in my own crapulence, and then decided it was time to force my tuchus back into gear. Not so easy when you’re feeling creatively depleted and buried under a mountain of mundane tasks.

 

 

Into the void comes Danielle Krysa’s (AKA the Jealous Curator) new book Creative Block. She interviews fifty visual artists about their work, facing their inner critics and how they deal with creative droughts. At the end of each interview there is an exercise from the artist to get your creative mojo going again. It’s a gorgeous book, the art alone is enough to inspire. Add the interviews and exercises and it’s a feast for any artist no matter your medium.

 

 

I am champing at the bit to try some of the exercises, but as I was going through the book I thought how wonderful it would be to gather a group of people together to work through the exercises.Then meet to show our work and discuss the results. Then I thought about coordinating schedules, deciding on meeting times and places, and who will provide the snacks and I had to put my head down on my desk for a while.

 

 

Then I realized that living in a technologically advanced age meant that I didn’t have to do any of those things. I could start a virtual Creative Support Group that wouldn’t be bound by distance or time restrictions. So I’m issuing an invitation to all my artistic friends out there be you performers, visual artists, or artistically curious, to join my happy band.

 

 

Here’s how it will work. We’ll put together a private Facebook group and once a month I’ll chose one of the exercises from the book. You’ll work on it in your own space and time and then share your pics and thoughts on the experience with the group. The group is a “secret” Facebook group meaning that anything that is posted is only visible to those in the group, although, I’d like to do a summary post every month on this blog sharing some of our work and thoughts about the exercise. Don’t worry though, I’ll only publish those ideas and snaps that you give me permission to share with a wider audience. While the exercises in book are geared towards the visual arts most can be easily adapted to singers, musicians and actors. The only prerequisites for the group is that you be interested in exploring your creativity and are willing to share your thoughts with like minded people in a kind and supportive way.

 

 

If you’d like to participate send me a note through the Contact page of this site, or message me through Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s in a Name

 

 

Hot Coffee Gen Store 2

 

 

 

From the moment Michele B. and I started working on our current project we’d called it Hot Coffee, Mississippi as sort of a place holder, always intending to come up with something else.  But when it came right down to it Hot Coffee, Mississippi was the only name that seemed to fit.

 

 

 

Hot Coffee, Mississippi is both a real place and a figurative one for me. The real Hot Coffee is in the Mississippi Delta about two hours from Biloxi. It is the place where both my mother’s parents were born, and my mother and her sisters spent much of their childhoods. I’ve been there. There isn’t much there there actually, mostly a stop light, a church, and a general store where you can buy anything from groceries to a treadmill.  It is hard to comprehend how we get from this tiny rural place where agriculture is still pretty much the main industry to my world of tall buildings, eternal traffic, and constant motion in the space of three generations.  Yet, still there is no doubt that this place is a large part of the person I became. This is the place where much of my family’s story began, and because of that it is part of me.

 

 

 

This brings me to the metaphorical Hot Coffee. I grew up with women who told stories, and many of those stories were set in Hot Coffee. I know these tales so well, that sometimes it’s hard to believe that I didn’t witness them firsthand. It took a long time for me to understand that what was being shared was more than an amusing anecdote. These women wanted me to hear them, and in hearing them I would know them. Understanding their stories has helped me understand who I am. Hot Coffee represents family in all its messiness. The good, the bad and the crazy. The people who may not always like you, but never fail to love you.

 

 

 

 

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Thank You for Being a Friend

 

 

Michele & Me by Cindy Banescu

Michele & Me by Cindy Banescu

 

 

 

Thank you to everyone who shared the details of the Gardenia gig on your Social Media pages. It was wonderful to have so much help! I took everyone’s name who helped pass the news along, put them in my trusty sequined hat and drew one out at random. And the winner of our Fabulous Prize Package is…Cindy Banescu .

 

Cindy, in addition to being a PR angel, also happens to be a very dear friend and a talented photographer. I am proud to say I was one of her first models way back when we were in high school, not that I’ll ever show you those pics! She also took the shot on this page of me and Michele B. which is one of my very favorites.  So thank you, Cindy, your gift is on its way! I’m looking forward to seeing you in just seven days!

 

 

 

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Icons & Inspirations: Walker Evans

Left: My version Right: The Original Walker Evans photo of photographer Berenice Abbott

Left: My version
Right: The Original Walker Evans photo of photographer Berenice Abbott

 

 

 

 

There are no tricks in Walker Evans’ photography. The people he captures aren’t posed; there is no elaborate makeup or lighting. The shots are stark, real, and utterly beautiful.

 

 

Evans started out wanting to write. He spent time in New York and Paris working in bookstores and writing fiction and essays, but it was photography that brought him fame.  Looking at his photos you can see the writer within the frame. Each one has its own story to tell. I suspect that each person viewing the pictures has a different idea of what the details of those stories may be, but that’s what makes them wonderful. While there is obviously something going on there, he’s left it to the viewer to figure out what.

 

 

During the depression he did a series of photos of the American South. These were my first experience of his photos. Seeing them brought me back to a place that I had loved but left. They reminded me of the stories that my mother and grandmother told me about growing up in the Delta, and some of the people they knew.

 

 

 

I have never seen one of his photos that I didn’t want to somehow find my way into it. To inhabit that world and talk to the people, smell the air, and feel the textures.  He captured things that others would find ordinary and illuminated just how much beauty there is all around us, every minute of every day even in places we would not expect to find it.

 

 

 

On the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Website there is an extensive archive of his photos. It is a wonderful place to spend some time when my creative battery is low. Even better I don’t have to leave my chair to be transported to his world. If you happen to be in New York City and want to see some of his work in person there’s an exhibit at MoMA that runs through March 6th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Icons & Inspirations: My Friend Erv

 

 

 

Erv & Ashton

 

 

Erv Raible was a promoter of live entertainment, an impresario, a teacher, a mentor, a connoisseur of talent, but most of all Erv Raible was my friend. This is a tough one. The last twenty-four hours have moved references of Erv from the present to the past tense. You see, my friend Erv passed away last night.  In the next few days there will be tributes from the New York entertainment press and fellow performers praising his support of talent, and the work he did in opening some of the most wonderful nightspots for entertainment New York has ever seen, The Duplex, Brandy’s, Don’t Tell Mama, and 88’s. This is as it should be, it is praise richly deserved, but I will leave that song to others. I want to write about my pal.

 

 

 

On the table in my living room is my favorite picture of Erv. You wouldn’t know it’s him as his face and hands are covered in a skeleton mask and gloves and he is holding a plastic scythe to Spawn’s five year old neck, but both are clearly having the time of their lives. I love this  Erv, the silly Erv who could have fun whether it was chasing a five year old around the living room or going to a formal event in a mink coat and jewels. I believe that the night this photo was taken was the night that, after Spawn went to bed, we dressed all his savage Lego Bionicle Warriors up in feathers and rhinestones and lined them up atop the TV in a kick line.  Spawn was not quite as amused by this as we.

 

 

 

He was a creator of adventure, no matter if it was a walk down the street, or a trip to an exotic locale, if the walk happened to combine itself with the exotic locale, so much the better. We’d leave the house for a quick trip to the store to look for something and then somehow return twelve hours later exhausted and laden down with “FAAAABULOUS” treasures. His energy for the hunt was inexhaustible. There was one search for the perfect bustier to go with a tux I had just purchased that spanned three states and at least 35 stores.

 

 

For a girl who grew up apologizing if the sun rose in the morning, the fact that Erv was so fiercely himself was a revelation to me. He never apologized for who he was or his opinions. He created the life he wanted for himself and refused to back down. I know of very few who have been able to accomplish this. It takes guts and brains, and he had plenty of both.

 

 

 

Erv gave great presents. He didn’t  “do” birthdays, and that was okay. He more than made up for it by giving wonderful surprises at unexpected times. One of my most treasured possessions is a beautiful necklace he had designed and made for me as a thank you gift. There were treats brought back from trips, or things he picked up just because he thought I might like them.  I know his heart was in every one.

 

 

 

I will miss all the things he had yet to teach me about art, and design, and wearing earrings proportionate to my head size (bigger is always better, don’t you know?).  I will miss picking up the phone and hearing him say “It’s Erv!”, and launching into the details of his latest wonderful find. I will miss the road trips, and laughing and wonderful meals shared. Mostly, though, I will just miss my friend.

 

 

 

 

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