Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More Fun with Music and Art

Hanukkah it was not, but between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Yo La Tengo played a big ol' show at the Roseland Ballroom. Bigger venue than they usually play (in my experience, anyway) and it was packed with 3,000 of us. We got there too late to enjoy the musical stylings of the Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co., but I hear they did a fun set in the lobby area. We did catch most of the Black Lips set, which was good for some good-n-loud.

Then came the main event: Yo La Tengo themselves, rocking in their own inimitable way. They gave us a healthy dose of the best material from their newest, Popular Songs. They rocked their classics (ok to call them 'classics' right?) including taking "Blue Line Swinger" to heights only dreamt of in your mythology.

They were introduced by the Daily Show's John Oliver, who had his work cut out for him trying to focus that many hipsters. They had visual stimulation provided by the Joshua White and Gary Panter Light Show.

The light show was a show of its own. Joshua and Gary are visual artists from the original psychedelic rock era. Nary a computer in evidence. Just some guys with projectors, colored oils, spinners and slides working a visual counterpoint to the music.

A microcosm of the reactions of our little group to this phenomenon:
Sherin: I love how old-school this light show is - analog everything!

Cory: You can see the hand of the artist, like with Jackson Pollock.

Frank: I feel like I'm at Iron Butterfly.

Amanda: Why isn't anybody dancing?

I don't know who shot this video (though I think it probably was Qbertplaya) and it seems possible that it'll be pulled down off the internets at some point. But for now, enjoy - string section and all.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Performing Arts City

Ok, as promised, more today about New York's Performing Arts season.

Going backwards a bit, last night Cory and I went to the new Anna Deavere Smith show at Second Stage - it's in previews and therefore still under construction, but it's already a brilliantly developed piece in Anna's signature vein: an amalgam of characters she interviewed herself and embodies live on stage. These people range from the famous (Eve Ensler) to the very famous (Lance Armstrong) to the not famous at all (Anna's aunt) and Anna of course inhabits them amazingly: physically, vocally, holistically. Eve Ensler has a riff about women who do or do not live in their vaginas - good stuff, funny and telling. Along those lines, it's fair to say that Anna lives and works in her whole body. Which can be a deceptively difficult thing to do, and most actors aspire to get better at it. I know I do.

I could go on and on about this show, but I have a lot of ground to cover.

Last weekend, I did the 4 shows in 3 days thing. Love it. So, to continue the backward path...

Sunday night Cory and I met with Richard, a director I've worked with a few times, and a couple of his friends to see a Fringe show called Powerhouse. It was about the life and work of Raymond Scott, who wrote the piece of music that shares its name with the play, and which was featured in tons of Warner Brothers cartoons you've probably seen. It featured some pretty well-worn notions but also some interesting staging and puppetry, and a shout out is due to Eric Wright for some good voice acting and puppet skillz.

Sunday afternoon was a show on the good ol' Broadway with my dayjob co-worker Kendra. We caught After Miss Julie, which is Patrick Marber's new take on Strindberg's classic set in post-war England. It's also in previews (and making good use of them, I hear) and offers up some Star wattage in the form of Jonny Lee Miller (whom you may know from the brilliant Trainspotting movie) and Sienna Miller (whom you probably just know, but if you don't, check out Factory Girl.)

Less well-known to movie audiences is the fantastically talented Marin Ireland, whom I saw earlier this year in Reasons to be Pretty and who burned it up in this show too.

Yay for you!

Saturday night was dance-y theater (or theatrical dance) at BAM. In-I, which was conceived and performed by Akram Khan with Juliette Binoche. Also worth mentioning is the score by Phillip Shepard. He's a composer/educator/musician who scores bunches of films and viddies and events and rocks an electric cello.

Before the show, we'd been to early dinner at the delicious Olea and had some fab java at Tillie's (both of those = yum yum yum!) as well as a long walk in Manhattan and a brunch with a friend of Cory's. It was a GORGEOUS late summer weekend and we tried to make the most of it.

Lastly/firstly - on Friday night I was at the Brick in Billyburg to see my friend and colleague Brad Fraizer in a clown show called Schaden, Freude and You. It was part of a larger clown festival and it was, as promised, very funny. I ran into a guy I know from the show I did with Brad, so that was a plus; and we got to see some good clowning. You may not think you like clowning, but remember that when I talk about this I'm not usually talking about some guy in whiteface with a red nose, but a more universal brand of physical comedy. And let me tell you guys - to do it really well is hard. And funny.

So there that was. Another weekend starts now. Tonight I'm gonna rock it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

YLT-minus one day

Tomorrow is the one and only Yo La Tengo show in the Greater Big Apple Metropolitan Area for the rest of this year. Woo Hoo! Very very excited. Frank and Amanda are making the trip down for the occasion, and Sherin will also be joining us. I've pretty much given up on the idea that The Minus 5/Baseball Project/Steve Wynn will show up as special guests - I let myself fantasize for a few minutes, since they were at Bowery Ballroom last night and they seem to be the kind of band that would LOVE to turn up at an event like this, but it turns out that they're going to be down south by the time tomorrow rolls around.

Oh well. There will be other fun in store, I'm sure.

Tonight will be the amazing Anna Deavere Smith at Second Stage in Let Me Down Easy which, from what I understand, is about American Health Care, sort of. But not really. Maybe I'll have something a little more enlightening to say about it tomorrow.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Magic 8 Pod

I haven't played Magic 8 Pod lately, so let's give it a whirl today.

How will this upcoming Big Weekend of Theater go? Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Whatever Happened to My Rock & Roll

Well, it's true that this weekend promises to be a little highfalutin, with the Clown Show, the BAM dance performance, plus Strindberg redux and heady fringe. Maybe I have been neglecting the rockin' side of things. But I am not ignoring it! Let this lead me to my next question, but let me also take this opportunity to mention that B.R.M.C. will be releasing a new batch of live music and video this fall.

What about next weekend's Yo La Tengo show? Johnny Cash - Country Boy

This may not seem to rock all the way out at first, but it's a good sign for the show. A boom-chicka-boom early Cash song, simple in a way that YLT would love, and the kind of song they might cover. "When it's quittin' time and your work is through/There's a lot of life in you."

Will my dad be out for that visit next month? Paul Westerberg - Things

Huh. Umm... well... Paul's a great songwriter and musician. This song doesn't really illuminate anything. It's kind of a love song. Or an "I love you but never know how to say it right" song. Guess dad's trip will remain a mystery for the moment.

What about the work on my apartment? Alanis Morissette - Ironic

This has kind of come to pass: they stripped the paper, fixed the walls and repainted, which is great BUT now there's a leak in one of the pipes. Let's call this one a prophesy that's been altogether, completely fulfilled already and move on. (Yes, yes, I have Alanis Morissette on my iPod. Get your laughter out of the way.)

Will I be making a trip to Boston this fall? For, you know, the right reason?? Elliott Smith - Almost Over

Aha! This is a deceptive one. It looks like bad news for the BoSox at first glance, until you realize that the gist of this song is that the worst part's almost over. Not the season. That part of the season where it's increasingly clear they won't win the division and they're in trouble for the wild card. Yes. That's definitely what this is saying.

How this factors in to me getting tickets to the postseason at Fenway is less transparent...

This Week in Health Care Reform

In case you're looking for some reading material, here's Paul Krugman on the question of what direction Max Baucus's health care reform bill will go as the Senate revises it over the next few months.

A telling line: "The insurance industry, of course, loves the Baucus plan. Need we say more?"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

OH, and if you live in New York...

... don't forget to vote today in your local primary election.

Cow Country II

Couple additions to the 'sconnie blog, thanks to my sister, who is a better photographer than I, but with the disadvantage of having to use me as a subject.

Anna was pretty equal-opportunity when it came to letting people push her on the swing. Never really got tired of it.

This one I really love. We're roasting marshmallows for s'mores. Check out the light from the fire that Lori was able to capture glowing in Anna's hair.

Thanks sis!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cow Country

Which is where I'm from originally. "Cow Country" is not a pejorative term, or it shouldn't be; it's just an accurate one. I also sometimes refer to it as "Big Butt Country" which is more pejorative I suppose, but it's also, well, pretty accurate.

The point is, Wisconsin is the place where I was born and raised, and I love it a lot, although I'm very happy in my choice not to live there currently. Cory and I flew out there last week for a kind of a reunion with my family/birthday party for Grandma. So to get things rolling, here's a photo of Grandma.

There's the guest of honor with my newest cousin, Jacob. One of my aunts is only a few years older than I am, and she and her husband adopted this little guy at the end of last year. He was getting over a cold last weekend, which made Grandpa not want to have anything to do with him, but Grandma was uncowed.

Irrespective of his fear of baby-borne illness, Grandpa was in pretty good spirits. Ornery to the last, of course, but doing just fine. He walked Cory and me around his squash garden and apple trees - including challenging me to throw a blemished apple over the fence into the pasture beyond the lawn that he, at 92 years old, still mows twice a week. I made it (barely), thank God.

The little ones were having a great time, of course. The big party was at my cousin Kari's farm.

There's Cory pushing Anna on the swing with Alex, who is her, what, second cousin once removed I guess.

Here's Alex focused on his driving. This little John Deere is like a kiddie golf cart: brakes automatically when you take your foot off the "gas" pedal, so it doesn't require all that much in the way of coordination, but it zips all over the place. 2 years old this kid is, driving around a farm...

And here's his big brother Jack concentrating on his task at hand. This one is 4, and he has better focus than plenty of grown-ups I know.

They are all children of the corn, of course.

This is my dad and Kari's husband Chad overseeing Alex as he gives Annie a driving lesson.

And last but not least, here's Anna trying to figure out what the hell to do with that larger-than-life creature before her. If you click on the photo, you can make out the dreadlock-ish thing Lady has going on behind her ear.

And then there was the food... For Grandma's birthday party, Mom made spiral ham with all the fixins and then some, and Grandma herself provided brownies, carrot cake, apple pie and ice cream. And beer. The night before, we had pizza at the old family favorite in Madison. With sangria and beer. Then the night after, we stayed in what has to be the most Norwegian town in America and had breakfast there (I had a scrambled egg concoction wrapped in lefse, which is actually one of the few things that it's hard to track down a good version of in New York.) We had another family gathering at Chad & Kari's place again the next day - Anna had gotten sick, so Lori had to take her back to our aunt Jane's place in Madison, and she entrusted me with her Secret Lasagna Recipe. It was a big hit! Good going Lori. We also had mom's skillet zucchini dish. And beer. Then it was back to Madison to meet some of my old high school friends at The Old Fashioned, which has a fantastic selection of Wisconsin foods and cheeses. And beer. Finally, we had a gathering of the other side of the family on Labor Day: Burgers, Brats, Beans, Potato Salad and Cole Slaw, etc. And beer.

Because that's what it's all about.

Did I mention that this is sometimes known as Big Butt Country?

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Dear President Obama

Your next Big Speech is tonight. How exciting for you! Everybody's back from summer vacation and ready to roll up their sleeves and work together for a better future for everyone, without the faintest whiff of partisanship or political maneuvering. It's the American Way!

I understand that the first item on tonight's agenda will have to do with Health Care. Good thinking! Permit me to mention a few ideas on the subject: think of them as Talking Points if you like (I'm told that people like Talking Points.) Feel free to refer to any or all of them in your speech if you like. You probably shouldn't feel totally free to avoid mentioning at least one or two of them...

  • Health Care is a point of National Pride.
    The World Health Organization ranks the overall quality of the U.S. health system at 37th in the world: a little better than Slovenia's, but not quite as good as Costa Rica. That isn't really good enough for a place that still runs around claming to be the Greatest Country in the World.

  • No One's Health should be compromised for the sake of Anyone's Bottom Line.
    In the face of your less-than-scrupulous adversaries' reckless talk of death panels, you may want to point out that their precious Private Insurers have been denying care to Grandmas and Grandchildren willy nilly, in the form of widespread rejection of claims, and systematic cancellation of policies, even long-standing ones, when the patient's needs become too expensive. Yes, they are accusing you of what they have been guilty of for years. And I do mean guilty: this situation would appall the people who built the insurance industry in the first place - which, after all, is supposed to, um, insure that people get health care, not withhold it from them at just the moment they need it most. The practice is wrong, cruel, and greedy. And it should be illegal.

  • The Whole Point of Insurance is to Spread Risk.
    Not to make a gajillion dollars for companies and their stockholders. You may have to tweak this one, or people will start screaming about Socialism. To do this, I'd refer to the previous point. Assure people that there is not one thing wrong with making a good living - a really good living - providing health care. It's a very important job, and it should be richly rewarded. Profit motive is not necessarily a bad thing, but when we're talking about people's lives and health, I'd think that profit could be a secondary consideration rather than an all-powerful one. And anyone who gets filthy rich by gaming the system - and in the process making the system worse, keeping quality care out of people's reach - is just that: filthy.

  • Catastrophic Care is not good enough for the Poorest of the Poor.
    I'll buy the argument that if you make a decent living and just don't believe in Insurance, for whatever reason, you shouldn't have to get too much of it - coverage for only the severest illness and injury might be enough for you (though you really do need to be covered for that, or the potential costs are too great for you and eventually for the rest of the country.) There is some debate as to whether preventative care is much of a long-term cost saver, but it is universally acknowledged that it helps maintain long-term health. Whatever plan is put into place must provide for an affordable option of ongoing heath care, not just Castastrophic coverage.

  • Core Costs must be held in check.
    Here's a point where you can completely agree with your opposition! Pretty much everybody acknowledges that overall health care costs have skyrocketed and need to be managed. (Well, except for those who will insist on disagreeing with you no matter what you say. Come to think of it, that may be a bigger group than you'd like to admit.) Article after article has been written on the subject, and some of the better ones even discuss some possible solutions. I'm talking about creative solutions, based on experience, with the actual goal of reducing costs, not kneejerk conservative calls for Tort Reform that are actually just gifts to big business (with an assault on the environment thrown in for good measure) disguised as social justice. That transparent maneuver aside, the Conservatives are right, and you probably should grant as much - any real reform MUST address overall costs head on.

  • We need to develop a Culture of Health.
    You're going to need to phrase this better - people get freaked out when you use the C word. Get Jon Favreau to help. But what I'm talking about is spreading actual patterns of healthy behavior (as opposed to lipservice about healthy behavior) across the breadth of society. Getting people to DO the healthy thing more often (nothing crazy - eat better, don't drink too much too often, get enough sleep most nights, exercise a few times a week.) Talk about your easy and obvious ways to improve health care while reducing costs. But to actually put it across? That will take your best effort. And, you'll be criticized for it, just as you were run through the wringer for (even I have a hard time believing this) telling kids to stay in school. Oy.

  • Fight back.
    This stems from the previous point, and again, you'll need smarter people than I to help you finesse it. But please, please go after these dipshits when they say stupid things, and especially when they lie. Which they have done, are doing, and will continue to do until you stop them. You will be called a Socialist when you try to improve health care. You will be compared to Hitler when you advocate education. You will be called a Harbinger of Doom when you engage in diplomacy. Most people (I hope) know that this is crap, and those that don't aren't going to change their minds no matter what you say, so GO AHEAD AND CALL IT CRAP. I know that sometimes it's hard for Democrats to call people out because they don't want to look like hypocrites when they're shown to be sitting in the same corporate pockets as Republicans. Which the Dems should, you know, stop doing. But even before that Hailstorm in Hell, you should give yourself permission to call the truth the truth and call a lie a lie. We'll respect you more for it. Really. Continue to rise above their tactics, by all means, but don't just stand there when they get together to bring you down. Be like a master martial artist and use their own momentum against them. The wackos (and the charlatans who guide them) have been nasty and don't show any signs that they will slow down. What they have shown is that they can be counted on to go to extreme, even absurd, lengths to stand in the way of policies that change some perceived social status quo (or that might cost the richest of the rich a little bit of money.) Reveal their arguments for what they are, and they'll wind up tangled in their own rope.

There we go. We did it. We solved health care! Good for us. Tomorrow maybe we can get together and figure out how to get me an agent...

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Super Tuesday

New Yo La Tengo record out today. It's called Popular Songs and it's good, of course - at first listen it seems to be more an example of the 'sonic exploration' version of YLT than the "straight-up rocking" version. Let me know if you want to hear it, and we'll have a listening party.

Today also sees a rare release from New Zealand power popsters The Clean. This one is called Mister Pop, fittingly enough, and I haven't heard it yet. So if you have it, remember: sharing is caring.

Tomorrow we'll get Obama's big Health Care speech to Congress. I have a few ideas for the President, and with a little luck I'll be able to post them in time for him to put them in there. Because he's a big follower of mine. I hear he's also looking forward to pictures from the trip out west...