Tag Archives: Stephen Sondheim

My Un-Silent Planet

The planet on which I live is not a silent one.

It moans…
…parents of another language resort to non-verbal sounds of despair over their separated children housed in cages in the land of their dreams.

It keens…
…of past things loved and lost…times, mates, values (imagined and real)……whole species.

It shouts…
…for teams; “GO BIG BLUE!”…for charismatic leaders; “LOCK HER UP!”…for artificial seasonal landmarks; “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

It laughs…
…at the happy foolishness of friends…and…at the misfortunes of strangers…dammit.

It whispers…
…words of love…and words of mere seduction.

It vows…
…”I do”…”I will uphold”… “I will defend”

My planet does all of these sound-producing things and more.

It also sings.
It sings of love and death and life and hate.
It sings of celebration and it sings of despair.
It sings of birth and marriage and graduation and waking up on a sunny morning.
It sings of forests and highways and deserts and oceans.
It sings of God and it sings of the Devil and it sings of the people caught between the two.
It sings of the planets and it sings of the girl next door.
It sings to inspire and it sings to console.
It sings.
It sings!

My friend Dr. Everett McCorvey has a sign in his studio. It reads;

“God likes me when I work.
He loves me when I sing.”

I cannot attest to the scientific accuracy of his sign, but of all the gods I’ve read about and studied, this rings 100% true. I believe every breath and every cell in my body is made better when I sing. What god worth his salt wouldn’t cherish that? And if that’s true for li’l ol’ me, how much truer is it for the whole planet? Every breath, every cell made better by singing.

Singing is the best thing my planet does.

I sing every day.

I sing everywhere and for no reason at all.
I sing to the dog and the cat – they are bewildered by it and react to it like most humans confronted by things they don’t understand: they hate it. But since I feed them, open rebellion has been avoided. Lord help me if the kibbles run out.

My wife, Janie, tolerates it with saint-like patience. I am aware that obscure Sondheim lyrics while loading the dishwasher and the noir growlings of Tom Waits while driving the car can be unnerving, but so far, she hasn’t applied for a concealed carry license…that I know of.

Thus, I add to the un-silence of my planet.
I invite you to do the same.
Throw your head back.
Cut it loose.
Wail!
Sing!!!

GN 04

Ten or So Things I Learned From Harlan Ellison

I knew it was coming. I had heard he was ill. Still…the death this week of Harlan Ellison is a gut punch.
I feel diminished, but that feeling’s not accurate. Though I never met the man, he enhanced me. He pointed a way to empowerment and wit and ferocity. On many days, he is my favorite writer. This is one of those days.
Things I learned…
1. “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”
Perhaps Ellison’s most relevant statement since the onslaught of the radio talk shows. It’s a pretty safe bet if you can’t spell your opinion or you’ve cut and pasted your opinion, you haven’t researched your opinion. You’re simply spouting randomly or piping “ditto” into the chaos. It’s unhelpful at least, certainly a waste of everyone’s time (including your own), and probably destructive of anything that might possibly “make America great.”
2. “Don’t start an argument with somebody who has a microphone when you don’t. They’ll make you look like chopped liver.”
This is so obvious. Just tune in to a Trump rally or any politician’s town meeting. This also applies to getting into social media debate with a professional writer. Geez…these people write for living! Or suggesting to LeBron James; “Let’s settle this with a game of HORSE.”
3. The three most important things in life are sex, violence, and labor relations.
No. I didn’t buy it either at first. But his essays on the subject convinced me…or perhaps made me laugh so hard I could no longer think rationally.
4. “No one gets out of childhood alive.”
A grim notion, but I fear its accuracy. I still think artists have a chance, but even they must constantly “beware the little deaths” warned of by Carl Sandburg. As I write this, the strains of Stephen Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t” are snickering through my head.
5. “The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.”
Probably Ellison’s most famous quote. I know it sounds like bumper sticker wisdom, but…duh!
6. “Once one becomes strong or rich or potent or powerful it is the responsibility of the strong to help the weak become strong.”
I know a number of well-meaning, successful people who started out with a two-step plan for their lives; 1. Make a lot of money and 2. Help others. However, after achieving #1, they added a third step; 3. Forget #2. I suspect Mr. Trump scoffs at the very idea of the #2 step.
7. If you work at Disney, nobody f#@ks with the Mouse.
Just ponder that a moment. These are words to live by…or at least words to remain employed by.
8. “…love and sex are separate and only vaguely similar. Like the word “bear” and “bare”. You can get in trouble mistaking one for the other.”
In my 60’s… I think… duh.
In my 20’s…I think I shoulda listened to Harlan.
9. A number of other very specific things that have been helpful to know;
“Ignorance is never having seen a film by Akira Kurosawa.”
Listen to your dog.
Trophy-hunting is a poor idea, especially on Ristable.
“…you can fight City Hall…”
10. And finally, if you’ve not read any Harlan Ellison, you have that to look forward to. I suggest starting with my favorite Ellison story; “Jeffty is Five.” Jeffty is always five, another good thing to know.
Thank you, Mr. Ellison, and now that you’re on the other side, please send back messages as you promised. You ain’t a writer for nothing!

Audition Valor

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.little-night-music-01 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 1987 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 were chatting 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 – did I mention I love to audition?

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.

My reward for his valor?

I now have a new favorite Christmas carol.

Magical Legends & Legumes

Movie night!

INTO THE WOODS.

I liked it…a lot.

Meryl Streep is impossible to look away from – nothing new in that. I am always amazed at the energy, imagination, and range of Ms. Streep in the projects she chooses. Hell, I think I was the first one standing at the opening night of the film version of MAMMA MIA at the Kentucky Theater. It was a brave choice and I loved her performance.

The songs in this show are engaging and clever – nothing new in that. It’s Stephen Sondheim.

The stories Sondheim mashed up to create the narrative of INTO THE WOODS are some of the most exciting stories ever told…and told and told. Again, nothing new here. Giants, witches, philandering princes, magical legumes, senior-citizen-devouring wolves; this is the stuff of legends. Oh wait, they are legends.

I will watch this film for the rest of my life, perhaps in bits and pieces as I stumble across it while channel-surfing, but I’ll watch it from now on and happily so.

But let’s be honest. There’s nothing new here. Nothing has been added to the luster of Meryl Streep, Stephen Sondheim, or Little Red Riding Hood. It’s simply cultural comfort food.

And I’m OK with that. I watch old films over and over, and indulge in cutting-edge speculations as to what Frank Capra could have done with a Godzilla film. But I also wonder what would happen if Mr. Sondheim wrote something totally new…specifically for film…specifically for Meryl Streep. That, for me, would be wandering into a woods wonderful and unknown and scary and thrilling.

I’d like that…a lot.