Monthly Archives: September 2017

Bungalow Jukebox Ju-Ju

Bungalow Jukebox Ju-Ju

D’ya know what joss sticks are?

The tame definition in Wikipedia is that they are slow-burning sticks of incense, burned before idols in religious ceremonies. Well sure, you could use them that way…just as you could use your new $1,000 I-Phone to make a phone call or prop your book open while you read.

Or, your joss sticks could be notched and imprinted in such a way that when you tossed them like pick-up-sticks (remember them?) and pondered the resulting pattern, you could deduce future strategies for living. Or, as posited in Guy Boothby’s peripatetic “Dr. Nikola” novels, you could rule the world and direct its populations to nefarious, but profitable ends.

Wow!

How about tarot cards; similar purposes minus the world domination option (and don’t they look pretty on the table?)

Or tea leaves, or crystal balls, or palms, or horoscopes, or odd number coincidences, or Madame Cleo …or the Daily Racing Form for that matter.

Guidance; that’s all we’re seeking. Oh sure, we’ll take world domination, but that’s not our primary goal. We just want a subtle or crude finger-post suggesting; “Ya, might wanna try this.”

I admit I’ve tried all of the paths mentioned with pretty consistent results; zip, nada, uh-uh.

But…

…there is one oracle that’s been spot on.

Once upon a time there was a restaurant/bar in Lexington called The Bungalow. They had fine mimosas, sinfully delicious desserts (thank you, John Barker Gray), killer “Eggs Nova Scotia”, a later night crowd of vague genders and chimerically specific wardrobes,

…and a legendary jukebox.

There was a central master jukebox with satellites at the perimeter tables. The satellites had those wonderful manual tabs that could be flipped from A-3 (“I Believe in Love”-Barbra Streisand) to D-4 (“Johnny Angel”-Shelly Fabares) in a 1980’s second.

I loved that jukebox.

I adulated that jukebox.

I trusted that jukebox.

These were pre-Liquor Barn, Shoppers Village Liquors days for me. I would go to my office on Saturday mornings, check in with every store, check in with Rob (the owner), pick up Janie, have brunch at The Bungalow, and work in the stores in the afternoon. This was a “happy place” for me.

I could pretty well determine what kind of day it would be by the selections heard on the jukebox at brunch. Would be a “Stop! In the Name of Love”-Diana Ross and the Supremes kind of day, or a “Cry Baby”-Janis Joplin disaster of a day?

It rarely steered me wrong.

I think everyone rued the eventual demise of The Bungalow, but few were aware of the collateral damage of losing that jukebox. Guilty as charged.

About the year 2000, I had the great good luck to a do show with Michael Thompson. As to be expected, he was excellent in his role and excellent company to boot. Michael had served a good bit of time as bartender at The Bungalow. One night at rehearsal he handed me a jewel case with two cd’s. It was a compilation of all the selections from the jukebox at The Bungalow. He had also taken the matchbook cover from the restaurant and rendered it into a cover for the cd. What a treasure!

If you can wear a cd out, I have just about worn this one out.

And yes, if I pop it into my playlist and hit “random” and “String of Pearls”-Glenn Miller chirps free, I go about my day with a bit more irrational confidence. Or if “Beyond the Sea”-Bobby Darin starts crooning, I go find Janie and we talk vacation possibilities.

You can keep yer joss sticks.

Verdi and an Unexpected Question

Verdi and an Unexpected Question

Sometimes I find myself in the middle of something wonderful and BAM! It suddenly dawns on me I’m in the middle of something wonderful.

This can often happen in a theatre rehearsal, occasionally several times in one evening.

It’s always jarring, sometimes scary, and always to sought again and again.

Today, it happened at lunch

I attended a preview luncheon for UKOT’s production of Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA.

  • Portofino’s served a fine meal – check.
  • I got to chat with one of the best actors in the area; Tom Phillips – check.
  • The room was packed – check.
  • Everett McCorvey gave an update on UKOT’s activities;
    • LA TRAVIATA opening next week.
    • BOUNCE the basketball opera opening with a world premiere in Lexington in November (opera/basketball/Lexington – talk about the “best of all possible worlds”).
    • SHOWBOAT in the spring.
    • The opera outreach program has booked two shows (schoolchildren K-8) in over 50 venues throughout the state.
    • Singers being recruited to Lexington from all over the planet and accomplished singers and citizens being exported all over the planet. We are infesting the planet with remarkable young people.
  • Check, check, check, check, and CHECK!

Then three of those young performers blew the luncheon-ers and the walls of the room away with excerpts from LA TRAVIATA. Thabang Masongo was confident and polished. Jessica Bayne was passionate and vulnerable. Michael Preacely was gigantic and……Michael Preacely!

And the music of Verdi is sublime and emotional and important on a cellular level.

All of these delights and miracles were expected.

What was unexpected was a question from one of my tablemates, a first-time attendee of these luncheons; “Obviously, these singers come to UK with a gift. What does the opera program do to enhance that gift?”

Everett answered with an impressive description of the instruction and coaching that each student receives. Michael spoke of being taught to apply the facts of instruction to the acts of performance. Jessica spoke of the variety of instructors and the nurturing ambiance of the UK opera community.

I thought of two things I have watched Everett instill in students for 26 years.

  • “Participation” means more than signing the guest book. It means coming to class/rehearsal/performance having practiced and being prepared to share that practice/improvement immediately and eagerly.
  • Our students believe they belong in every room and have a contribution to make in every room. The room may or may not be about them, but they are prepared and confident and competent to make any room better.

BAM!

Something wonderful.

And I’m living in the middle of it in my home town.

Audition Valor and Good King Wenceslas

I’d like to revisit a favorite memory if I may…

Audition Valor and Good King Wenceslas

I love to audition.

That sounds insane but it’s true, and it’s always been true. If it involves speaking and/or singing I’m in heaven. If it involves dancing…well…I might be busy that day. My point is; it takes no special bravery, or any bravery at all, for me to show up for an audition. I think it’s a pretty jolly time.

I know this is not true for everyone and I admire those performers who persist in auditioning in the face of dread. That’s bravery. The bravest audition I ever witnessed was one evening in the Guignol Theatre at the University of Kentucky.

Eric is a great friend of mine. He is a fine illustrator/water-colorist and a fine actor. He can also carry a tune. But in his mind at the time, as a singer…he was a fine illustrator/water-colorist and a fine actor.

One afternoon we chatted and I mentioned that I would be auditioning that night for Sondheim’s A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. I urged him to join me. He dismissed the suggestion summarily; “I’m no singer!” He looked a little pale at the suggestion. Always sympathetic (not), I made a mental note that if I ever had to express utter dread on the stage his reaction to the thought of a singing audition would be a good reference memory (an actor prepares, right?).

That evening, about an hour into the auditions, I was sitting in the last row of the theatre watching the efforts of others. I had already sung and read a few scenes and was foolishly longing to be asked to read another 20-30 scenes – I love this!

BANG!

The door to the theatre flew open and Grimness and Ferocity entered, personified by my friend Eric. He commandeered (commandeered – yes – le mot juste) an audition form from the stage manager, and slouched into a seat as far from humanity as the Guignol allows. All evidence suggested to me that it would be prudent to leave him the hell alone.

He was called upon to read a couple of scenes.

Then he was called upon to sing.

He marched on the stage and waved the provided accompanist away with; “I won’t be needing you.” He then announced; “This is my favorite Christmas Carol.” He proceeded to sing/declaim an acapella rendition of “Good King Wenceslas” that was loud, in tune, and capable of being marched to by any competent armed forces unit.

It was stunning and strange and perfect for Carl-Magnus in the show.

I understood what it had cost him and I was proud to know him…and maybe a little relieved to know he was not a concealed-carry type of guy.

His reward for his valor? He was cast. He and I shared a duet in the second act. It was singled out by the reviewer as one of the highlights of that year’s theatre season in Lexington.

Damn straight!

Tough Day

Man!

It’s been a tough day.

  • Hurricane Maria, determined to out-muscle Harvey and Irma, is bearing down on our “51st state”, Puerto Rico with winds that may be an all-time record for a landfall.
  • Mexico is hammered with a second major earthquake in a week.
  • The Rohingyan Muslim refugees are dying in the mud of Bangladesh.
  • My country’s president gave a scary speech to the United Nation General Assembly that only lacked him banging his shoe on the podium to complete his descent to the level of Khrushchev.
  • My beloved Reds just imploded from an incipient no-hitter and a four-run lead to a one-run deficient and a pitching change in about two minutes.
  • My undefeated college football team is playing Florida this weekend. We haven’t defeated Florida since alligators crawled out the primordial swamp.
  • It rained most of today. This affects me more and more…dammit.

And yet I cling to an apparently ludicrous optimism.

‘Splain dat.

It’s the little things.

  • I just got a picture of a 5th grade class in Louisa, Kentucky after an OperaLex-supported performance of “All About Teeth”, a 45-minute opera about dental hygiene. This was part of the SOOP (Schmidt Opera Outreach Program) tour. Everyone in the picture was smiling. You could say they were “all teeth”. The performers were smiling as well. Everyone involved was made bigger and better. Something perhaps, for my state’s governor to ponder.
  • I spent time with a young plumber today (young being anyone who is younger than me – which is just about the whole world). He did excellent work and made excellent suggestions. He has gifts that I do not. He is a veteran – he has physically contributed to make my life and freedom possible. He noticed the odd accumulation of whiskies and brandies in the house (the result of an adulthood well-spent in the alcohol industry). He lit up and we discussed his home winemaking efforts with passion on both sides. I suspect, from other comments, he may have little admiration of our governmental agents (elected or employed) and may be a Trump voter. He’s a good guy with a bright and inquiring mind. My house was made better by his visit, as was I. I can only hope he feels the same.
  • Over the decades, I have developed the resilience of a UK football fan. I believe, against all history, we will beat Florida this weekend.

I wish I could change the path of a hurricane.

I wish I could calm the surface of the planet.

I wish I could dry up mud and prejudice.

I wish I could make every day a sunny one.

And yes, I wish I had a different president.

I can’t.

What I can do is try to do as little harm as possible, try to make things bigger, try to make things better…

Try to be civil.

Little things.

Cowboy Tommy

Willie Nelson said it well with the words by Sharon Vaughn;

 

“I grew up dreamin’ of bein’ a cowboy

And lovin’ the cowboy ways.

Pursuin’ the life of my high ridin’ heroes

I burned up my childhood days.”

–“My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”

 

Before I discovered astronauts, it was cowboys for me. I wanted to grow up to wear a mask and have an Indian sidekick.

No, wait.

I want to ride a palomino and have girlfriend named Dale, and a sidekick who drove a jeep named Nellie Bell.

No, wait.

I wanted to wear a black, beaded outfit with a floppy hat and be called; “The Robin Hood of the West”.

No…no…wait!

I wanted to be Gene Autry, play a guitar and sing while ridin’, and live by the Cowboy Code;

  1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
  2. He must never go back on his word or a trust confided in him.
  3. He must always tell the truth.
  4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
  5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
  6. He must help people in distress.
  7. He must be a good worker.
  8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
  9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.
  10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

Yeah, THAT was the ticket.

It still is.

I understand that “cowboy” has come to mean a few different things than it did when I was a cow “boy” and my bike was my palomino. I have great affection for the cowboys of Clint Eastwood;

  • Rowdy Yates in “Rawhide”
  • The “Man With No Name” in various spaghetti westerns
  • The revenge-driven shooter in UNFORGIVEN.

Ditto for the cowboys described in the songs of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Ian Tyson.

Ben Johnson and Clu Gulager in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, Robert Duvall in HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, James Garner in “Maverick”, Richard Boone in “Have Gun, Will Travel”, and John Wayne in just about whatever film you’d care to name (he was pretty much always a cowboy)…all of these mean much to me.

But the cowboys that reach me most immediately have always been in the pictures of children in their cowboy outfits, with or without the itinerant photographic pony. Those pictures always trigger (pun most definitely intended) my remembered cowboy aspirations.

This week, I attended the memorial service of a friend and fellow actor.

Why should I praise him? What were my path-crossings with him that were so inspiring that I should shout hosannas?

  • He enlisted my help to fleece an innocent man in a real estate deal.
  • When I was in charge of a city, he flaunted and mocked my every effort.
  • He spit in my face every night for a month.

……on stage……pretending.

Off stage…there were nights when I wanted to strangle him over political differences…

…but he never wanted to strangle me.

I believe he forever “had my back”.

I believe he was deeply wrong about many things, and so he believed about me.

I believe he made the world better for having been in it, and suspect he believed that about me.

That’s called “civility”.

It’s also, in my mind, the cowboy way.

At the memorial service there was an array of pictures from Tom’s life. One of them was a picture of him as a child in his full cowboy regalia. Yes, it triggered my own atavistic career urges. I was un-surprised, but profoundly moved.

 

“Them that don’t know him won’t like him

And them that do sometimes won’t know how to take him.

He ain’t wrong. He’s just different,

But his pride won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right.”

–“Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” – Ed & Patsy Bruce.

 

I still have my yellowed copy of the Cowboy Code and still harbor hopes…hopes that may flicker a little brighter…