Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Back to the Roo(ts)

Ok, now that we've had a couple interludes in the worlds of comedy and politics, I'll get back to the matter at hand.

That being: Bonnaroo

That meaning: the Roots

Remember when I wrote that not all the acts were transcendent? Well, some of them were. And this was the act that first made possible the change from a fun weekend to something important if not life-changing for the people involved.

Jason and I had a good spot on the grass off to the left of the soundboard and back a bit. And the Roots came though with flying colors: power, passion, incredible musicianship and performance energy. Black Thought proved his mastery as an M.C.; ?uestlove was amazing on drums and percussion, at home in every rhythm; the horns were supertight and on point; guitars and keys rode the waves of hip hop, rock and funk. Everybody is a Star, and it felt that way, with live musicians in the physical universe, not a sampler in sight. The kind of show that reminds you why you love to go to shows - infectious in all the right ways.

What do we want?
Roots Crew!
When do we want it?
Right Now!

At one point Black Thought and the horns left the stage, leaving the rhythm section and Captain Kirk Douglas on guitar as the core for a mini set that took us all by the neck, shook us around, opened our eyes, cleaned the debris from the wrinkles in our brains and when they finally let go of our throats we found we could breathe better than ever.

The centerpiece of this set was a version of Dylan's Masters of War which opened to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. Sing along now:

Where you'd start 'Oh say, can you see,' instead begin:

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs

'Whose broad stripes...'

You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

'And the rockets red glare...' now

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy

'Oh say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave'

You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes

And here we devote all the vocal attention anyone ever gave to the word 'free' to the word 'run'

And you turn and run
When the fast bullets fly

Hendrix had nothing on them. Ok, he did guitar-wise, but in terms of significance of interpretation and activist theatrical performance, not an inch.

Then they finished off the song with Dylan's melody, of course inserting their own musical elements.

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

They did spend a little extra time on the final line of that verse. It bore repeating.

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could?
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

I guess it can be effective once in a while to give vent to rage, can't it? Thanks for bearing with the long quotation.

The full Roots Crew eventually made it back to the stage and they funked up the joint like crazy. I know i'm making it sound like they are a full-out political band, but they're not. They have a political side, natch, but they don't go too far with it, and they never forget about having fun. When they finally wrapped, after the encore, I found Sherin and J.P. and started planning our next moves. J.P. stopped me and said - "Wait a minute. Dude. The Roots. Was that just incredible?!"

Yes dude. It was.

But I'm sure those folks at the Lily Allen show had a really good time too ;)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

So after that last post - here's a little comic relief from Overheard in New York:

Everything but War and Straight Marriage Is Now Forbidden

Babysitter: Ok guys, hold my hand.
Six-year-old boy: Holding hands is unnatural.
Babysitter: What? Where did you hear that?
Six-year-old boy: George Bush!
Man walking ahead: Wow, he really does get blamed for everything now.

And then one for Sherin, to whom i tried to give legit directions to a place in Brooklyn:

Ennui and Apathy, Living in Perfect Harmony...

Tourist mom: Excuse me, miss, do you know how to get back to Manhattan?
Hipster girl: I'm sorry, I don't really have the energy to give you fake directions right now.

--Brooklyn-bound F train

Headline by: null

· "...Between the emphysema from the clove cigarettes and the anemia from cutting myself." - invisible girl
· "And if I give real ones, I lose my hipster certification" - AmyS
· "But for $5, I'll Pretend to Mock Your Fat Children" - Debra, the Barmaid Blog
· "I'm saving it all for defending my bitchy ass in Brooklyn" - knumb
· "When in doubt, Swim" - 6th Floor Blogger

Monday, June 25, 2007

politics and anger

It's usually not the most productive choice to give into anger. However, some of the things that come across my line of sight just provoke full-throated rage in me. Don't want to paint myself to be some sort of Billy Jack or anything, but things like what has been going on in American military prisons do make - me - go - berserk: that torture has been redefined as allowable 'cruelty;' that our intelligence agencies divert prisoners via 'extraordinary rendition' to certain foreign prisons which have even fewer restrictions on what types of interrogation are permissible and encouraged.

Guys, I know you know this, but this situation is no kind of joke - it is huge and horrid national shame.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I have tremendous respect and gratitude for our soldiers, who do some fantastic work, put themselves in harm's way and have a kind of courage I'll never know. It is not the typical soldier I indict. In fact it's utterly boggling that simple soldiers have taken the heat for what's gone on in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

And you know what's gone on, right?

So, ok, I wrote some stuff that shows a side of me very few ever get to see. And there's a good reason for that. (That whole thing about rage not being productive.)

I've been working to discipline my thoughts lately. Not to suppress or ignore impulses that are uncomfortable, but to get into the habit of turning my mind to things that are useful, positive and somehow geared toward growth. As a character said in a book I read (and deeply appreciated) recently, "you have to choose your thoughts the way you choose the clothes you put on in the morning."

There's something to that.

So, instead of giving in to the vitriol, I refer you to Seymour Hersh's article in this week's New Yorker, which details the events at Abu Ghraib, and more importantly, the systematic hiding and diversion that went on around them; the conscious plotting on the part of people very high in the military establishment and Department of Defense (yes, including Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz) and White House (right up to the top, y'all) to encourage these methods of extracting information that are not only repulsive on a primal level and ethically abhorrent, but notoriously ineffective (which everyone knows - don't they? I mean, do these guys really believe the shit they see on TV?!)

See, it's hard to be measured about this stuff!

The article follows Major General Antonio Taguba, who comes off as a true hero - the kind of guy who inspires people to become career soldiers in the first place - given the job of investigating the abuses at Abu Ghraib, but really expected by the higher-ups to bury them. Nonetheless, he pursued his investigation with great energy, integrity, and what could be described as patriotic fervor. And then he was ostracized roundly for doing so.

And it also shows us the work of this guy:

Major General Geoffrey Miller, a former Gitmo commander who was given the job of making information-gathering more efficient at Abu Ghraib by encouraging the 'loosening up' of prisoners. And then was given the job of 'restoring order' when abuse allegations became known.

Just think it's good to have a face to go with the names of our war criminals.

Please permit me a moment to pause here to acknowledge Genarlow Wilson, the guy given a 10-year sentence for engaging at the age of 17 in consensual oral sex with a 15-year old in Georgia. Even though the Georgia legislature changed the sentencing guidelines of the law after he was sentenced, he wasn't permitted to benefit retroactively. And while a judge did recently order him released, citing the obvious miscarriage of justice (well done!), the Attorney General prosecuting the case is appealing in hopes of returning Wilson to prison for the remainder of his sentence, followed by a lifetime as a registered sex offender.

Guess my point here is that this kid who got a blow job from someone who evidently wanted to give it to him is staring down a LONG prison sentence and ruined life, while the real bad guys have their freedom securely intact.

But rather than give in to the temptation of nastiness, perhaps your time would be better spent signing this petition, brought to us by the folks at MoveOn.

Oh, and if that's not enough, you may as well check out this editorial in, which has links to the big Washington Post series on Dick Cheney which has got so much attention in the last few days.

And let's not forget that our Supreme Court has been pretty busy the last couple days too...


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Living on Tennessee Time

We'd set up camp on Thursday - a tent for Sherin and J.P., and one for Jason and me; loads o' camp food and a badass stove to cook it with; giganto-cooler full of beer and ice; the shade canopy we'd picked up in Nashville - key to our comfort, as it happened. This canopy did not, however, allow us to sleep in remarkably well. The Tennessee heat cranked up pretty early in the day, and S & JP particularly caught the sun's rays in the morning. But we were able to ease into the mornings with coffee filtered mug by mug, port-a-johns that started the day downright cleanly, baby wipe 'baths' followed by ye olde gold bond on the crotch (trust me, it's a good thing) and a few get-things-going beers at camp and on the dusty walk to Centeroo.

Made some 'Children of Men' and 'Grapes of Wrath' jokes on said walk - you could look at those thousands of tents as an artistic collective or a refugee camp, depending on your point of view. Either way, it is a good population to be a part of.
Paid a real quick visit to Bonna Rouge, the cabaret tent, to hear a couple numbers from the Firecracker Jazz Band, who swung us nicely into the day. Didn't stay long though, because we wanted to get a good spot for Richard Thompson, rock hero and guitar god extraordinaire, perennially underrecognized by the masses though a critical darling. Well people, I'd never had the chance to see him, and wasn't going to miss this one, in spite of having to take a pass on the Brazilian Girls and Tortoise. And holy shit, he did not disappoint!

Do you know this guy? A lot of people don't, to America's shame. Brit rocker, one of the founders of Fairport Convention, in my opinion he's one of the very best guitarists out there, with a mastery of an utterly individual mix of rock, blues and traditional music from at least 2 continents. He played new stuff, old stuff, no FC material as far as I could tell, but my knowledge of their catalogue is far from encyclopedic. Thompson's set was one of the highlights of the weekend for sure, with all the things you'd expect: tight band, great songs, RT was in fine voice and his guitar work was off the hook, natch; and the ineffable live factor was well-charged - the crowd was in tune with the music and the musicians returned the favor.

So I needed a mental break after that. We caught parts of the sets from Kings of Leon and Michael Franti & Spearhead. Both were good, especially Franti, but the combination of fatigue and awe kept me from altogether thorough attention. Which may have been for the best, in light of what happened next...

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Have to ask: what's going on with the Mets? I mean we're in serious WTF territory here - they've been downright bad lately. Lost 8 of the last 10, 14 of the last 18, 6 consecutive series, and haven't won 2 consecutive games since May. That's not good, people; that's not even middlin'.

Now, it's not panic time. The Mets are a good team at the core; they've got some injuries to deal with; slumps happen to everybody; the Twins are solid and could take a series against any team in the majors; ditto the Tigers and Cardinals, and a case can be made for the Phillies and even the D-backs.


C'mon -

Let's go Mets!

While we're here, I may as well send a shoutout to the Bosox for beating the Braves and helping to keep the Mets in first.

As it happens, Red Sox Nation was alive and thriving in Bonnaroo. And we'll get around to that team I didn't mention in the next Bonnaroo chapter - the one dealing with The Hold Steady... Tee hee!


This will be the first of probably several posts on the Bonnaroo festival I went to last week with Sherin, J.P. and my brother-in-law Jason. You've seen some of the advance notice here - 4 days of music, art and camping in southern Tennessee, replete with acts that gave much cause for high hopes. Earlier today, I was asked why it's taken me so long to post about this at all, and while I could respond with the standard 'it takes time to recover, life is hard, blah blah blah,' you'd all see right through that because you know the truth: when you're a rock star of my magnitude, you end up spending a lot of time drizzling chocolate syrup on naked models and other such activities. Also, Sherin beat me to the obvious title and opening line in her 6/19 entry.

So for now, I'll just say that the Roo rocked our socks off. Seriously, you should have seen our feet; they were pretty gross by the end. It was more than worth treading around in sandals, though, and hiking the half-hour from the tent to the venue (including that huge bottleneck at the 'security' checkpoint - which was pretty comical, and seemed to be for show. They really looked for contraband the first day; by the end of which I'm guessing that the security team had confiscated enough chemical refreshment to keep the whole staff going the whole weekend, because by Friday they were pretty halfhearted about it, and by Saturday people were smuggling in whole coolers full of stuff.) There were plenty of moments that fell short of transcendent, and a couple that were really quite lame, but those moments were way outweighed by the awesome rockage of the best acts.

Diving right in, Sherin and J.P stood on line to catch Lewis Black and friends; I'd seen a full set of his before, and the line was long, so Jason and I went to "This Tent" to see The Black Angels instead. They're from Austin, which makes me happy, and took their name from the Velvet Underground's 'Black Angel Death Song.' True to this origin, they give good drone. Dark but not oppressive, their live show casts a long shadow on their (good) recordings. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was a big theme for the weekend. Bands I already really liked got that much more of my respect when I heard and saw what they're capable of in person.

After the angels, J & I ducked over to "The Other Tent" to hear the end of the New Orleans Klezmer Allstars. They're just what their name sounds like: good fun dixieland meets Eastern European Jewish clarinet Jam. Moved on to "That Tent" (yes, I know, the venue names are like the "Who's on First?" routine. Just dreadfully clever, ain't it? :p ) to catch The National. Not much to say about them: they were fine, but I spent part of the set just chillin in the grass. Which was a-ok, because it allowed me to save my energy for Rodrigo y Gabriela who fucking rocked!!!!

[the usage of 'rock' and its variants as a modifier is already really old, I know, but sometimes it's the only word that will do...]

Mexican guitar duo, plenty flamenco, heavy metal 'tude; he has fieryfast picking skills and she whales on the git box with such percussive fervor that a couple times I caught myself scanning the stage looking for the nonexistent drummer. Maybe a teeny bit too cheerlead-y for my taste, and I don't think we needed both 'Wish You were Here' and 'Stairway.' But complaining about such details would just be perverse.

And on that note, it's back to the chocolate sauce. Another installment will follow shortly...

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Art as it happens...

Saturday, among other things, I went to MoMA to see the Richard Serra exhibition. Very impressive - spread throughout three separate spaces in (and out of) the museum, one devoted to his early work, one to "Related Curves" from the '90s and one to new work. The pieces ranged from pretty big to really large-scale, and I found the best ones irresistible. Giant curves, stunning in their balance and proportion, beautiful from within and without... amazing. Lori has me thinking it might be worth getting a membership just so I can return there at will for the season.

Well, ok, probably not.

But when I compare that temptation with all the other reasons, yeah, I might sign up for MoMA. For instance, another exhibition going on was Dan Perjovschi, and it was rad too! Check out this viddy. It does no justice to the piece, but it does make me kind of wish I'd known about the event of him creating it live at the museum.

There are a few other things I'd like to write about, but things are CRAZY BUSY as we're getting ready to head out to Bonnaroo! Very scintillating... ;)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

"The most important thing is work"

So I was going to write about the Bang on a Can Marathon, and I still might, but I'm kind of tired of just writing about the shit I do on weekends.

Something came to mind tonight as I was doing some networking/scheduling on email, prepping for auditions, and half watching a couple ballgames on tv: I think one of the (many) things that make for an affinity between theater actors and baseball players is the every day element of both of them. Major Leaguers play 162 games over 6 months - pretty much a 6-day week, including tons of travel (and some players do the winter-league thing too); theater actors are expected to do 8 shows a week - again, a 6-day week, sometimes on the road. Ok ok, neither task is as physically demanding perhaps as a marathon, or a football game, basketball game or ballet. But... every day, folks, for however long. And watching the players at this point in the season (early June - not even halfway through) starting to wear down, succumb to injury, just being troupers, I think of the daily dedication that is simultaneously workmanlike, common, and utterly singular and awe-inspiring; and I draw a breath in renewed admiration of people like Cal Ripken Jr. And Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams (all that hitting, plus time away from the majors to serve in TWO wars) Hank Aaron... And Eli Wallach, Laurette Taylor, Vanessa Redgrave, John Raitt... And, what the hell, Boyd Gaines.

Or then again, it might just be that within the last couple days both the Red Sox and the Mets have lost three games in a row for the first time this season...

And ok, I will break my little 'if you can't say something nice...' rule and say apropos "father of minimalism" Alvin Lucier's Canon at the Bang on a Can Marathon: it was like listening to paint dry. Yes yes yes, I understand: you have to be attentive to the microtones, and try to figure out the (glacial) rhythm - those things can keep you from literally falling asleep. But I'm sorry, people: I think the emperor may be naked. Reckon Alvin can take my dissent.

As for the rest of the Marathon - it was fantastic. One of the events that makes me really happy I live in New York.