Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Perfect End to the Perfect Decade

Beginning of the decade: a total, flaming dick becomes president. With the help of asshole terrorists on airplanes, screws up everything he can touch.

Close of the decade: asshole terrorist sets his dick on fire while on an airplane. Gets beat up by a Dutch dude.

The end.

Paralyzed, or the Mind-Instrument Interface

We are down in the Northwest winter. Compared to much of the U.S. at a comparable latitude, we have it relatively easy. Occasionally, it gets uncomfortably cold, but it rarely lasts (unlike the protracted cold of eastern cities, where it feels like living in the world’s largest walk-in freezer). What we do have is rain and, with it, a kind of pervasive darkness, like the sun never quite powers up. At midday, it feels like all the lights have burned out, and only 40-watt bulbs are available as replacements.

Night, late in morning and early in evening, seems to be as much a psychological experience, akin to a drug state, as a physical one. You can understand how, especially in a night lighted only by pitch and tallow, the Greek god of sleep, Morpheus, leant his name to morphine.

In this somewhat smoky, haunted environment, with its damp and fog, you dig why every over house in the British Isles apparently owns a ghost (or vice versa). And, as though following the soundtrack from a classic horror or noir film, at this time of year I find myself listening to slower, slightly stranger music, preferably in a minor key.

I tend to reserve winter’s keystone—Leonard Cohen’s first album—for one of our rare snowfalls (blame Robert Altman, who apparently vacationed in my head), but of late I’ve found myself listening to spritely larks such as Low, Bedhead, Peter Green, and Ride’s “Nowhere”—a most appropriately named album for the season.

And now that I occasionally (i.e., every night) play music as well as listen to it (I have yet to graduate to making it…for more than, say, 30 seconds at a time), the music I play adapts to life in semidarkness.

Which leads me, in a roundabout fashion, to yesterday evening, where, very tired indeed, I sat down with the Strat, amp, and effects boxes (if anyone wants to send me a belated Christmas gift, stompboxes are always welcome), and attempted to negotiate Ride’s majestic ode to psychological dysfunction, “Paralyzed.” The verses were troublesome, but the chorus was enjoyable—for at least 30 seconds at a time—and provided a distortion-assisted sense of movement within non-movement. A good session for a neophyte. When I despair of forever being a beginner, partly due to a certain talent deficit, I suspect, I console myself by remembering that staying a beginner is the destination for Buddhists….which, of course, requires unrelenting practice.

(Would Buddha have played a Fender or Gibson? Probably a Rickenbacker. I can, however, see the Protestant Jesus wielding a Strat—with whammy bar—and the Catholic Jesus favoring a Les Paul. With Mary on amplified flute, Joseph on bass, and, on drums, the Holy Ghost. I can’t, however, imagine any of them playing “Paralyzed.” Sorry, Ride. “A Day in the Life” perhaps. With the Protestant Jesus cranking out “Blue Suede Shoes” and Abraham playing “You Can’t Always Get What you Want” on glockenspiel. Muhammad, as we know, don’t dance.)

Back to the piece under discussion, as I attempted to negotiate barre chords for E minor, F sharp minor, G major, C major, and B minor (I said it was cheerful), the word “interface” kept coming to me. It’s not a particularly elegant term, all chilly IBM technospeak. Perhaps “medium” is more appropriate. But it became apparent that the instrument served as both a conduit and a barrier in a feedback loop. I don’t mean getting the guitar pickups too close to the amp (a subject for another time), but feedback in the sense that, when one plays music as opposed to solely listening to it, one becomes both sender and receiver.

What has come to the brain via the ears—say, listening to Ride’s recording of “Paralyzed”—regenerates as memory, then is transferred through neurons to the muscles of the hand and hence to this supremely physical object, rife with its own psychological resonance (to play guitar is, fleetingly, to become whoever played the original), and somehow those muscle actions generate vibrations the guitar pickups translate to electricity—much as neurons transmit electrons borne of chemical interactions—which twist and turn through the shape-changing maze of effects box circuitry, until arriving at the amplifier’s speaker cone, which generates—sometimes quite forcefully—sound waves that the ears return to the mind. Like photosynthesis, the process, though understandable by the left brain, is no less magical to the right. Unfortunately, understanding the process makes you a no better guitarist than intellectually grasping the mechanics of sex makes you a lover.

At a certain point, I put “Paralyzed” away for the evening, shut down the gear, put the guitar back in its case, and went out on the porch for a smoke in the dark. And there, with neighborhood lights moving through fog and drizzle, two versions of “Paralyzed” swam alongside each other like salmon, moving in concert but perfectly separated—my “Paralyzed” and Ride’s—and the winter felt less like something to be endured and more like a laboratory for the psyche. Ghosts and all.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Walking Before They Make You Run

"Getting old is a fascinating thing. The older you get, the older you want to get."
--Keith Richards--

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Ah, the new axe. An Epiphone Sheraton II, which is more or less a Gibson ES-335 without a varitone switch. But it does have those twin humbuckers, and, whilst playing an obscure folk tune called "Street Fighting Man," I found that if you crank the volume on the pickups, with the bridge on treble and the neck on bass, and then crank up the gain and volume on the amp (for all intensive purposed a Vox AC30), the resulting sound resembles an F-18 leaving the deck of an aircraft carrier.

In short, I love this fucking guitar.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Good Day in Splattworld

It's that time of year again, when the children wait expectantly for the presents to arrive.... Yes. I'm talking about the announcements of Regional Arts and Culture Commision's (RACC) project grants for artists. This year, I'm tied to two projects which have won grants; the following descriptions are from the RACC site:

Portland Theatre Works Next of Kin LabWorks. Portland Theatre Works will produce an intense developmental workshop of Steve Patterson’s play Next of Kin, which had a well-received developmental reading in our FreshWorks program in October 2008. In the play, set in rural Oregon during the height of the Iraq War, Mike is a Marine Casualty Assistance Officer, who informs parents and spouses their loved one has been killed.

Chris Harder, Fishing For My Father. From my personal experience as an adopted child, meeting my biological father, and becoming a sperm donor myself, I am inspired to explore the complex quality of love that is shared between children and their fathers and how diverse circumstances influence who we are. By using fishing as a common thread I aim to discover the significance that shared moments and memory have in our lives.

In the case of Mr. Harder's piece, I'm writing a quartet of monologues. (Chris and I worked together on The Centering, for which he won a Drammy Award as best actor.) So that means I have some writing to do, plus a rewrite of Next of Kin, plus two plays in January's Fertile Ground New Works Festival (The Rewrite Man as part of the Pulp Diction new works reading series, and Riffs, a short play as part of Introducing...Playwrights West, readings from a new theatre company I'm involved with...called, not suprisingly, Playwrights West. You can buy tickets to both events through the Fertile Ground Web site.)

This is the nature of theatre. In 2007, I won the Oregon Book Award, tra la, my future was golden, all I had to do was wait for the offers to come cascading in, and...nothing happened. I got a lot of writing done this past year, but had not a single production. In 2010, well, I'm already exhausted thinking about it.

Anyway, congratulations to Mr. Harder and to Mr. Andrew Golla at Portland Theatre Works, and to all the other RACC recipients. If you want to check out the other granted projects, the info can be had at RACC Project Grants for 2010

Plus, depending on how things go, I might be writing a non-fiction book, and I have a bunch of new plays to market.

In other words, maybe I'll get to sleep next year. A little. Maybe.

Good times.


Monday, December 21, 2009

In the immortal words of "Six Feet Under"...

...everything ends. So long Followspot. Thanks for your dedication and what must have been an awful lot of work....


Friday, December 18, 2009

Travel well, voyager.

Wilma Jean Patterson
July 13, 1935 - December 18, 2007

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I did my best to notice
When the call came down the line
Up to the platform of surrender
I was brought but I was kind

And sometimes I get nervous
When I see an open door
Close your eyes, clear your heart
Cut the cord

Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold
And I'm on my knees looking for the answer
Are we human or are we dancer?

Pay my respects to grace and virtue
Send my condolences to good
Hear my regards to soul and romance
They always did the best they could

And so long to devotion
It taught me everything I know
Wave goodbye, wish me well
You've gotta let me go

Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold
And I'm on my knees looking for the answer
Are we human or are we dancer?

Will your system be alright
When you dream of home tonight
There is no message we're receiving
Let me know, is your heart still beating?

Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold
And I'm on my knees looking for the answer
Are we human or are we dancer?

You've gotta let me know

Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold
And I'm on my knees looking for the answer
Are we human or are we dancer?

Monday, December 14, 2009

This just in...

Secret footage of the Senate health care deliberations. I think Joe Lieberman (Anal Lesion-CT) is the guy wearing the black and white housecoat. Majority Leader Harry Reid, as everyone knows, is crazy like a fox.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Time Waits for No One, Not on My Side

Where's the "off" button on this thing, anyway?

Sorry it's been so long between postings, but, some time during early October, life accidentally bumped the hyperdrive switch, and I've been violently sucked into an uber-accelerated time vortex, and it's been all I can do just to clutch the safety bar while my rattling little cart has climbed, dived, slid, and shuddered into the curves.

Hyperbole? Well, yes. But it has been busy. In addition to working 50+ hour weeks at my day job as a mild-mannered technical editor, I finished the working draft of Immaterial Matters--a new full-length drama I've very pleased with.

I'm helping Playwrights West, a new Portland theatre company, get off the ground (including building and launching a last-minute Web site to serve as a placeholder until we can build a better site).

I shot, framed, and hung a photo project for a production of Sam Shepard's Fool for Love and served on a public panel discussing Sam's work.

I reconnected with one of my oldest friends (then promptly dropped the ball when the schedule overwhelmed me--sorry, Scott), and I got together with Jack Boulware, a college/journalist buddy, in town to promote his terrific new book Gimme' Someting Better (and more to come on that).

Deb and I managed to go see Bob Dylan and B.B. King, both beyond wonderful but Tuesday-night concerts which left me wasted the rest of the week.

I shot a portrait of a charming transvestite for Pulp Diction, a January new works reading series and part of Portland's Fertile Ground New Works Festival, which includes my newish full-length play The Rewrite Man--which, of course, I had to rewrite.

I've made huge leaps forward with my guitar playing (I think), bought Deb a new Ibanez acoustic as an anniversary present (we've been jamming together, which has been wonderful), bought and broke in a new Vox amp (because Deb's new guitar has an electronic pick-up, and I happily returned the great Roland amp she'd been loaning me), and, this week, completely lost my mind and bought an Epiphone Sheraton II semi-hollow body electric (more on that to come as well).

Plus the car blew up and needed major repairs, we had a small dinner party for my yearly winter dish, Beef Bourguignon, and, after writing three full-length plays in two years, I decided to take a break from playwriting...to write a non-fiction book (and stil more on that down the road, naturally). In my spare time, I managed to begin writing a song. Because, you know, I didn't have enough to do.

Finally, three vetebras in my neck went out (stress, perhaps?), and I've pretty much been in constant pain for weeks, but I've been so busy that I couldn't get to my doctor until this past week. (Getting better, thanks.)

Things, pleasantly, look to slow down in a little while--right after the PR I have to do for Playwrights West (also part of Fertile Ground), rehearsals for The Rewrite Man (and possible rewrite), two grants I should hear yea or nay on this month, a new round of play submissions, some work as a regional Dramatists Guild representative, photos I owe some friends, revamps of Playwrights West's and my own Web sites, research on the new writing project, and then this upcoming "Christmas" event...whatever that is. Plus another couple play rewrites with looming deadlines.

So my apologies for the posts I haven't written, phone calls and e-mails I haven't returned, or any other balls I've managed to drop. I've been lucky to hang on to the pair I was issued years ago.

At some point, the fatigue morphs from agony to giddiness. At least that's what they tell me: I'm still waiting.

In short, if I owe any of you stuff--scripts, pictures, calls, or new blog posts--please bear with me. I'll get to it right after.... Well, it's on my mind, okay?

My to-do list includes: "update to-do list."


Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Sad Thought

“If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?” Going Rogue, page 133.

Sarah Palin...she just isn't going to go away for awhile, is she? Not until she flames out like some kind of right-wing supernova...or Britney. Stumbling out of her book tour limo with no panties....

No, no. It's too terrible to think about.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Holidays on Acid

The weirdest freakin' thing you will see this holiday season. Outside of your own house. Thank you, Uncle Bob Dylan. I think.

How come I never get invited to these Christmas parties?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Taste of "Immaterial Matters"

From the new play....

REILLY thrusts the paper at CRANE.


CRANE warily takes the paper.

"Three fires of incendiary origin--"

The other column.

"Clifford Beekly has been diagnosed with acute insanity--"

Further down.

"An unknown man found hanging in Mr. Wilson Crowley's barn--"

Below the fold, Crane.

There's nothing below the fold but obituaries.

Wrong. There's nothing below the fold but customers.

Riding with the King....

Tonight, boys and girls. Believe it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More of, well...me

Why people are at all interested in hearing what I have to say about...anything, I'll never know, but Zack Calhoon has an interview with me about plays and playwriting on his excellent Web site, Visible Soul. You can check it out at:

People You Should Know

Thanks, Zack!


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The New Thing

I’ve been away from the blog for awhile for (I think) a reasonable reason: I’ve been writing. Seriously.

I took the morning off from writing and spent some time reading my friend Jack Boulware’s very sharp and funny book Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day. You should check it out: it’ll make you want to immediately dye your hair green and stick a safety pin through your cheek.

I felt like I had the carte blanche to blow off the muse for the morning because yesterday I finished typing up Immaterial Matters, a new, full-length drama with which I am very, very pleased. I’m never a very good judge of my own work. First off, you’re always in love with a play when you’re writing it, even if it’s putting you through fits. Second, others often really like the stuff I end up a little indifferent to, and the work I become besotted with tends to be the stuff that generates an “eh” from others. I have no explanation for this, other than I have perverse taste. Sometimes, it ends up being vindicated; sometimes it just stays perverse.

But this one feels a little different. Writing’s generally hard, hard work, even when it goes well, but this thing was just a breeze from beginning to end. In fact, it was coming so easily that it began to freak me out—like I’d inevitably sit down with the notebook one day and be suddenly dry, dry, dry. Never happened. It was always there for me when I called upon it, which is a joy. It continually surprised me—another good sign—and, when I was typing it up (I write all my drafts in longhand, then type them, revising as I go), I’d slightly change a line, then pause and change it back to the original. This almost never happens.

So I don’t know. But I’m guardedly optimistic. As to the play itself: it’s set in 1880s, and it’s about a photographer, death, and a ghost.

And that’s about all I’m saying for now.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

That Thing I Said Before....

...you can pretty much forget what I said, because I now own this (the Vox, not the Les Paul or the Marshall):

Monday, October 19, 2009

Call of the Wild Amplifier

Some folks get into cars. A Ferrari or Jag passes by, and they’re transfixed. Others collect antique…well…anything. A relative of my collects salt shakers; I try not to judge. Sometimes it’s craftsmanship that draws us, other times it’s rarity or an investment.

But, most often, I suspect it’s mystique. An object psychologically resonates, whether you need it or not. (Usually, you don’t.) Still, you can’t look away. At various times in my life, I’ve felt the irresistible pull of a Canon F1 SLR, a professional workhorse of infinite flexibility and outstanding construction. When I lived in New York, where having wheels was a serious hassle, I spent a couple days of moral torment over a neighbor selling their black and gold Honda Hawk 450 before coming to my senses and realizing Manhattan was very possibly the worst place in the world for an overly cautious driver to ride a impressively light, fast motorcycle. Thus, I’m still using my corneas. And, for the longest time, I couldn’t pass an IBM Selectric typewriter without my mouth going dry; it was the most elegant of machines. I couldn’t probably pick one up for a pittance now, but, you know, now what’s a typewriter?

Then there’s guitar amplifiers.

Which is ridiculous because I have a very, very good amp that’s so stunningly clean and loud that I’ve never turned past five. As it’s very neutral in tone, it’s an ideal tool for applying effects boxes (another addictive gizmo…you start out thinking, well, it’d be nice to have a flexible delay unit, just for playing those U2 riffs, and the next thing you know, you’re eyeing the original Univibe Hendrix used playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock). But…ah. You innocently go to a music shop to try out said delay, and they say, yeah, man, pick any guitar off the rack and plug in to any of the amps…they’re all on. You bet they are. And you go, oh, right. Well, I play a Strat; so I guess I’ll grab this, uh, $5,000 Robert Cray signature model and I’ll plug it into…. Oh, look. They happen to have a Fender Vibro-King Custom 60W 3x10 Tube Combo. That’ll do.

Seriously: do not do this. Because that tone will hook you, shining, shimmering. And late that night, when you’re trying to fall asleep, you’ll hear those icy notes dripping like droplets off an icicle. And pretty soon, tone knobs will be dancing through your mind’s eye, and you’ll find yourself looking for a jar in the garage that’ll work for tossing in a couple bills, you know, now and again. Just in case.

Forget. Plug in the amp you have. Turn it up to…six. And listen to how utterly lousy you play. Whatever you do, don’t think of a blackface grill with the ultra retro cool Fender script logo. Anything but that. Anything….

Amp lust. It’s ugly.

Then again, if there’s anyone out there not using a vintage amp tucked in a closet….

No. That would be wrong. I know it. And you know it.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Truth is Way Out There

A recent Newsweek cover blared: “In Search of ALIENS.” I have a suggestion where to look.

Let me preface this by saying I’ve known (and know) a number of engineers, and though they’re brilliant, funny people, they tend to be rather linear. Metaphors don’t work that well when building suspension bridges.

That said, I also know a bunch of lighting and sound designers, who are also brilliant, funny people, but they often have an abstracted, opaque air about them, as though they’re existing on a very slightly different reality plane than the rest of us. During a group discussion, for instance, they’ll sit quietly while all the extroverts blather and fulminate, and then they’ll ask a question that no one has an answer to because it’s never occurred to them before. And everything stops.

Somewhere between these poles live stompbox designers.

For those not versed in flangers and pitch-shifters, stompboxes are little electronic gizmos that you plug your guitar into. They get their name from their foot activation buttons; when one steps upon one of these, your guitar tone stretches out wide, buzzes, twists, echoes, trembles, or turns into multiple copies of itself so it sounds like two or more guitars are playing. They are, in short, serious fun and thoroughly addictive. Which is why last night, I could blow off a very long day by playing a overdriven minor pentatonic scale with cascading echoes-es-es and jet airplane whooooooshes and other psychedelic nonsense that sounded really, really cool when I slid notes.

*pause to reflect*

Here’s the thing though: to build these suckers, you have to understand sine waves and how electronics shape them, which involves complicated schematic drawings and soldering things together, and you have to know how the humbucker on a Les Paul sounds really bitchin’ when run through an overdriven tube amp, man.

How many types of heads are involved here? Who are these people? Where did they come from?

I mean, I’m glad they’re here, and they cook up some delicious sounds, but…what are they?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Obama responds graciously to Nobel announcement....

Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this morning.

After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, "Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo's birthday."

And then Sasha added, "Plus, we have a three-day weekend coming up."

So it's -- it's good to have kids to keep things in perspective.

I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee.

Let me be clear, I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize, men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women and all Americans want to build, a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents.

And I know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.

And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

Now, these challenges can't be met by any one leader or any one nation. And that's why my administration's worked to establish a new era of engagement in which all nations must take responsibility for the world we seek.

We cannot tolerate a world in which nuclear weapons spread to more nations and in which the terror of a nuclear holocaust endangers more people.

And that's why we've begun to take concrete steps to pursue a world without nuclear weapons: because all nations have the right to pursue peaceful nuclear power, but all nations have the responsibility to demonstrate their peaceful intentions.

We cannot accept the growing threat posed by climate change, which could forever damage the world that we pass on to our children, sowing conflict and famine, destroying coastlines and emptying cities.

And that's why all nations must now accept their share of responsibility for transforming the way that we use energy.

We can't allow the differences between peoples to define the way that we see one another. And that's why we must pursue a new beginning among people of different faiths and races and religions, one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.

And we must all do our part to resolve those conflicts that have caused so much pain and hardship over so many years. And that effort must include an unwavering commitment to finally realize that -- the rights of all Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security in nations of their own.

We can't accept a world in which more people are denied opportunity and dignity that all people yearn for: the ability to get an education and make a decent living, the security that you won't have to live in fear of disease or violence without hope for the future.

And even as we strive to seek a world in which conflicts are resolved peacefully and prosperity is widely shared, we have to confront the world as we know it today.

I am the commander in chief of a country that's responsible for ending a war and working in another theater to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies. I'm also aware that we are dealing with the impact of a global economic crisis that has left millions of Americans looking for work.

These are concerns that I confront every day on behalf of the American people.

Some of the work confronting us will not be completed during my presidency. Some, like the elimination of nuclear weapons, may not be completed in my lifetime.

But I know these challenges can be met, so long as it's recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.

This award is not simply about the efforts of my administration; it's about the courageous efforts of people around the world.

And that's why this award must be shared with everyone who strives for justice and dignity; for the young woman who marches silently in the streets on behalf of her right to be heard, even in the face of beatings and bullets; for the leader imprisoned in her own home because she refuses to abandon her commitment to democracy; for the soldier who sacrificed through tour after tour of duty on behalf of someone half a world away; and for all those men and women across the world who sacrifice their safety and their freedom and sometime their lives for the cause of peace.

That has always been the cause of America. That's why the world has always looked to America. And that's why I believe America will continue to lead.

Thank you very much.

The right-wing reaction follows....

It's the End of the World as We Know It...

...and I feel fine.


Conservatives react....

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Greatest Painting Ever Told

I would never knowingly poke fun at anyone's religion. It's just not my thing, and I respect the personal belief systems of others and honor their right to follow their faith...so long as it doesn't involve grabbing a hold of me and holding me underwater until I shake off Satan.

But I do reserve the right to make fun of art. Especially bad art. Art so bad it's almost good. To whit, the art and link below which, I'm afraid, are just not so terribly good at all. In other words, delightful beyond words. View mere mortals, and tremble!

(Note: the trick to really enjoying this piece requires mousing your arrow over the various faces to read the footnotes.)

The Greatest Painting Ever Told

Friday, October 2, 2009

Taking Stock

So...it was 19 years ago, in September 1990, when my first play--Controlled Burn--opened. And, with year 20 coming up, I thought I'd sort of look at what's gone down with the playwriting. Frankly, the stats kind of knocked me over: I've written around 53 plays, 25 of which have been full-lengths and 33 of which have been produced (several have been produced multiple times, so my total production rate is slightly higher than that). That means around a 62% of the plays I've written have been produced--not too bad for a goofy kid from Selma, Oregon. In other words, I write about 2.7 plays per year, even though I work full-time, and I'm a semi-professional photographer, serious gardener, and, of late, guitar player.

Now, I'm not saying all those plays were good. But still....

Makes tired just thinking about it, much the less doing it. Maybe I'm getting the hang of this writing thing.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What is it with people named Shepherd?

However you spell it. There's Sam. There's Alan. And now I've just discovered Kenny Wayne Shepherd, the most exciting guitarist I've heard in years. Lots of people discovered him before me, of course, but, man, the dude's playing has soul. James Brown said so, and, hell, that's the law.

Anyway, check him out....

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Friday, September 18, 2009

Here's your Republican health plan, suckers....

How very amusing.

More Bonsnian "uh oh" signs...

Storm clouds....

"A few days ago, Nebojsa Radmanovic, the ethnic Serbian member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, said in an interview with the Belgrade-based daily "Evening News" that Bosnia is one step closer to dissolution than it is to being a functioning state. That is a harsh statement to be coming from one of the three men in Bosnia most responsible for seeing to it that Bosnia functions as a state. If Bosnia is not "working," he and the other two presidency members are the first ones to be blamed."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Poor, Poor Pitiful Him

Damn. I forgot the sixth anniversary of Warren Zevon's death (September 7th). It hardly seems that long. Ever since, the world's been just a little less rich and dangerous.

Good luck, fella. Wherever you are.



You've got an invalid haircut
It hurts when you smile
You'd better get out of town
Before your nickname expires

It's the kingdom of the spiders
It's the empire of the ants
You need a permit to walk around downtown
You need a license to dance

Life'll kill ya
That's what I said
Life'll kill ya
Then you'll be dead
Life'll find ya
Wherever you go
Requiescat in pace
That's all she wrote

From the President of the United States
To the lowliest rock and roll star
The doctor is in and he'll see you now
He don't care who you are

Some get the awful, awful diseases
Some get the knife, some get the gun
Some get to die in their sleep
At the age of a hundred and one

Life'll kill ya
That's what I said
Life'll kill ya
Then you'll be dead
Life'll find ya
Wherever you go
Requiescat in pace
That's all she wrote

Maybe you'll go to heaven
See Uncle Al and Uncle Lou
Maybe you'll be reincarnated
Maybe that stuff's true
If you were good
Maybe you'll come back as someone nice
And if you were bad
Maybe you'll have to pay the price

Life'll kill ya
That's what I said
Life'll kill ya
Then you'll be dead
Life'll find ya
Wherever you go
Requiescat in pace
That's all she wrote

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jim Carroll RIP

Jim Carroll is a person who's died, died. He was 60, which makes me feel old, baby.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Asshole Heard Round the World

I missed it, actually, the moment when Congressman Joe Wilson (Asshole--S.C.) jumped the shark. I was running late and hadn't turned Obama's speech on yet. But I haven't missed it this morning.

If you have, Mr. Shouty Jackoff yelled "You lie!" at the President during Obama's speech last night...a genius move that received a sad shake of the head from Joe Biden and a glare from Nancy Pelosi that could cause small animals to wither and die up to a range of 12 feet. Wilson apologized this morning, shortly after delivering his testicles to Rahm Emanuel, who now has them in a cedar box on his desk. And, at varying times during the next few weeks, as the health care bill is being discussed, he'll invite various House and Senate members to his office, and, at appropriate moments of their conversation, he'll reach across the desk, pick up the box, and briefly rattle it.

Wilson's congressional Web site has already crashed. I'm suspecting his mailbox is full.

But the mailbox of his likely Democratic opponent next year is up and running, and so far it's made a tidy $100,000 overnight.

And a flood of stories are appearing about how everybody who knows Wilson is shrugging and going, "Yep...he's an asshole." Good times.

I think a new bumpersticker has just been born: Obama lied? You died.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Van Jones is my New Hero...

...and Obama fired him yesterday. Bummer.

Van Jones sez Republicans are Assholes

Uh...stop the presses? And, by the way, he's right--especially in the context in which he said it. But he should know you can't be that honest and do the people's business; so he's gone. The end.

Long live Tom Paine.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Now is The Time to Act

Danger splattworks readers: a long post on a serious subject follows.

In this morning's Sunday New York Times, the Week in Review section included a chilling article about increasing tensions in Bosnia and Europe's sleepy non-involvement. The entire article follows below, but it's an issue I've been following for at least the last year, as political and ethnic tensions have risen in that troubled country, leading keen observers to fear a resurrection of the hostilities that marked Europe's work outbreak of violence since World War II.

In case you've forgotten or were too young to remember what happened, after Yugoslavia's strongman Tito died, ethnic factions--largely Serbian and Croats--where whipped into anger by self-serving ideologues, exploiting centuries-old divisions betweeen Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, the result being a ghastly three-way civil war that claimed over 100,000 lives and was marked by ethnic cleansing (i.e., wholesale murder of ethnic groups), systematic rapes, torture, and other atrocities, and the utter ongoing destruction of Sarajevo, one of the world's great cities, which suffered a horrible, protracted death at the hands of Serb snipers and mortars as the rest of the world--Europe and the United States included--wrung their hands and dithered. Finally, NATO stepped in with airstrikes at Serb positions, and, in a short time--magic!--the warring factions hammered out an cease-fire arrangement in Dayton, Ohio (since known as the Dayton Peace Accords).

The suffering of Sarajevo and it's people, who prevailed heroically (and sometimes not-so-heroically) under the most appalling conditions, and the inability of the world's leaders to act, drove one playwright--me--into an utter fury, resulting in the drama Liberation, which premiered in 1999 at Portland's Stark Raving Theatre the week NATO bombs began falling on Kosovo, another Balkan flashpoint. The play was celebrated by critics, both in Portland and, especially, in its 2003 production at Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company in Santa Ana (Los Angeles area). It went on to be published by the good folks at Original Works Publishing.

Now, as theatres are looking at their 2011 seasons, I urge them, implore them, to consider Liberation for possible production, not only because I feel passionately about the play--which, of course, I do--but because unless voices speak out to remember the all-too-recent past, we may be condemned to repeat it...which, trust me, is not something we want to do.

Below is the article published in today's New York Times. You'll also find links to Original Works Publishing's Liberation page and Rude Guerilla's archive page on the play, which includes reviews and production photographs. Also included is a link to Vice President Joe Biden's office, as Biden has been instumental in fact-finding missions to the Balkans. If you want to contact a politician to express your concerns about the detiorating situation in the Balkans, his office is a good place to start. I'm also creating a Facebook group dedicated to Liberation: a link to that is also included below. Below the New York Times article is a review from the Rude Guerrilla production.

Please also pass this information on to theatre companies you feel may be appropriate homes for this play. I know this all sounds terribly self-serving; in many ways, I'd just as soon count Liberation as a historical piece that serves as warning lesson on the dangers of "looking the other way" in a dangerous world where our lives are interlinked by globalism. But I'm afraid the situation is more serious than that, and we're again entering a time when the play may again serve as a protest against the inhumanity of war, in a small, very bloody piece of the world.

I know this blog has readers all over the world. I'm stepping outside of my usual, tongue-in-cheek snarkvoice to urge you take this post seriously.

A final note on Liberation: it's a very tough, uncompromising play--I wrote it to be as strong an indictment of war as I possibly could--and it's tough going for audiences, akin to the theatrical equivalent of the film The Killing Fields. Producing it takes commitment, passion, and nerve. I hope, however, that both theatre companies and audiences can find the piece deeply rewarding.

Once again, we are being called upon to act.

Thanks very much,


Original Works Publishing: Liberation

Rude Guerrilla Theatre Company: Liberation

Vice-President Joe Biden

Liberation Facebook Group



NEARLY 14 years after peace for Bosnia was hammered out in Ohio, the hills rising up around Sarajevo can still lead a visitor to uncomfortable thoughts about sightlines for snipers.

As I stood there in person on a visit back in May with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the violence of the ’90s didn’t feel so far away. Mr. Biden barnstormed through the Balkans on Air Force 2, also stopping in Serbia and Kosovo, with the goal of trying to draw flagging attention back to the region, delivering his sternest lecture to the Bosnian Parliament, warning against falling back onto “old patterns and ancient animosities.”

Mr. Biden is not alone in his warnings. In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, under the headline “The Death of Dayton,” Patrice C. McMahon and Jon Western write that because of ethnic divisions that refuse to heal, widespread corruption and political deadlock, “the country now stands on the brink of collapse” and “unless checked, the current trends toward fragmentation will almost certainly lead to a resumption of violence.”

Whether or not that happens, the peacekeeping force meant to crack down on any outbreaks now has fewer than 2,000 troops. And the American contingent, a promise and a deterrent to those who justifiably doubt the European Union’s resolve if force is needed, has left entirely.

These circumstances might be cause for widespread alarm, if anyone had noticed them in the first place. It didn’t used to be that way. It used to be that you didn’t have to shout to get heard on the subject of Bosnia. The name alone was enough to evoke the rape, torture, burned-out homes and mass graves that marked a three-and-a-half-year war in which roughly 100,000 people were killed, a majority of them Muslims.

But that was a long time ago. For much of the Western world Bosnia is an all-but-forgotten problem, far down the list of priorities after countries like Iraq, Iran and North Korea. As if to drive the point home, the chief architect of the Dayton peace accords in the Clinton administration, Richard C. Holbrooke, now a special envoy in the Obama administration, has his hands full with the war in Afghanistan and the even more complex situation in neighboring, nuclear-armed Pakistan. Mr. Holbrooke has complained in recent years of a “distracted international community.”

If the drift of public attention away from Bosnia is a result of more pressing issues in an age of terrorism and rogue nuclear states, it is also a function of the simple fact that this ethnically divided country finds itself in the middle of a far more united, stable and at times downright boring Europe than in the days of the civil war.

Bosnia could well return to violence, but it has lost a large measure of what might be called its Franz Ferdinand threat. For all of the moral and humanitarian arguments for getting involved in the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia, there was also the severe lesson from Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination in 1914, which provided the spark for World War I. That lesson was simple: conflicts start in the Balkans, but they do not necessarily stay there.

The end of the cold war brought elation but also trepidation. In hindsight, the march of countries like Poland, Hungary and Romania from the Warsaw Pact into NATO and the European Union may appear steady and all but predestined, but the paths of those newly freed countries were anything but certain at the time. Bosnia was a starkly destabilizing factor in a far more unstable continent. The fighting that began in the spring of 1992 was not quite three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and less than a year after the attempted coup of August 1991 in Russia, and came hard on the heels of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Today, the picture has changed again. Now that Europe is no longer the fault line of a divided world, it looks ever more like a retirement community with good food and an excellent cultural calendar. Spies cut from the George Smiley cloth could really come in from the cold, retiring with legions of their countrymen to the Spanish coast, with no more to worry about than the decline of the pound against the euro and the sinking value of their condos.

The European Union has its share of problems, including a rapidly graying population projected to shrink by 50 million people by 2050 and deep troubles in integrating the immigrants — particularly from Muslim countries — it so drastically needs to reverse the demographic slide. And the union’s energy security depends on its often capricious and at times menacing neighbor to the east, Russia.

Russia’s invasion of Georgia last summer served as a stern reminder that things can still get rough outside of the gated community, and certainly made newer members like Poland and Estonia nervous about the sturdiness of the fence.

Renewed fighting in Bosnia may not launch World War III, but it could well spread to other parts of the former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo. Kosovo declared independence last year, and the United States Embassy in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, burned at the hands of angry rioters. I walked the streets in the aftermath, interviewing Serbs, and found rage, sadness and desperation even among the most pro-Western elements of society.

It was something of a pleasant surprise, then, to return with Mr. Biden this year and find average Serbs on the same streets sounding deeply pragmatic about the visit by an American politician who not only represented the superpower that had bombed them but was personally an early and staunch supporter of Muslims in both Bosnia and Kosovo. While there were holdouts, most said that jobs and freedom to travel trumped old enmities.

With any luck the sentiment will find more traction in neighboring Bosnia too, drowning out the extreme voices and their loose talk of war. Given how far the world’s attention has wandered, supporters of peace in the Balkans will have to hope they find their own path to moderation. Otherwise the crack of snipers’ bullets and the whistle of mortar shells could herald the terrible spectacle of a preventable return to bloodshed.

Theatre Y2K: Liberation Review

rude guerrilla theater co.
at the empire theater
santa ana, ca
18 april 03
reviewed by mark jonas

Imagine a dazzling, cosmopolitan city -- a city of chic stores, good-looking
people, great shopping, hot bars and coffeehouses, where the latest cars,
movies and designer labels are all around.

Now imagine it shelled, and people bleeding in the streets, and going to work amid gunfire, driving past the ruins of places they used to know and love.

The city was Sarajevo; the time was the early 1990s. If you study photos of
Sarajevo during the warfare of that time, you're struck by how "western,"
even how "American" parts of it look. In the right light, the offices, stores
and avenues could pass for Brooklyn, Boston, Cleveland, or Oakland or Los Angeles...even Orange County, CA.

Orange County is where you'll find a powerful new play about Sarajevo: Steve Patterson's "Liberation", now at Santa Ana's Empire Theater. It's brought to you by Rude Guerrilla Theater Company.

Patterson is not Bosnian; he is Oregonian. He is from Portland, where
"Liberation" was produced by Stark Raving Theatre. According to the program biography, he has worked as a reporter, and that has probably given him the ability to "shape" a story and to see and interpret different points of view. Appropriately, his play is set in a newspaper office. It's an exciting choice, a useful "neutral ground" from which to explore the psychology of warand ethnic conflict.

It's no ordinary day for the reporters and editors at one of Sarajevo's major
newspapers. Paper and ink shortages threaten tomorrow's edition. And
suddenly, so does the arrival of a Serb army deserter, Tuna (Justin L.
Waggle). Tuna wants to come clean on the Serbian army's atrocities -- the
ethnic cleansing, rape and murder of Bosnian Muslims, and Croats. It's a
scoop for reporter Petar (Kristian Capalik); it's a path toward asylum for
Tuna and his sister Lana (Jami McCoy).

It is January, and the Serbs have been shelling the city for months -- a
campaign that will eventually kill more than 10,500 of Sarajevo's
half-million citizens, and wound tens of thousands more physically and
psychologically. Trying to hold down the fort of the fifth estate are Zlatko,
the publisher (David Rusiecki), and his secular Muslim wife Vedrana (Deborah Conroy), who edits. Four other staffers continue to work: Milena and Ismail (Luz Violeta Govill, Craig Johnson), and Sasha and Dado (Melita Ann Sagar, Andrew Nienaber).

There are problems enough harboring a deserter from an enemy army, but things get worse. A Serb general parks tanks and troops up the street from the office, and spreads propaganda painting Tuna as a Muslim terrorist holding the paper hostage. When the building is shelled by the army, blood runs and hope escapes.

"Liberation" does not present an audience with poetic transcendence, comic
relief, fantasy sequences or satire. There is simply more of the same awful
situation, and this is one of the play's strengths. Its characters attempt to
publish a newspaper because there is nothing else to do; they become noble
because the situation demands nothing less.

More than any other quality, "Liberation" conveys the despondency and
resignation of life in wartime; its characters feel deadened by degrees.
Everyone has a story ("we are pincushioned with stories," Ismail ruefully
notes) of seeing people killed, or shellshocked or maimed. The play's first
and last lines come with a signature irony -- one of the only good weapons

Director Jody J. Reeves has pulled some strong performances from her cast.
(One of her actors, Kristian Capalik, actually spent his childhood in
Sarajevo.) Waggle is clearly a very dedicated and very good young actor,
playing Tuna with notable presence and nuance. As Vedrana, Conroy projects
real dignity and ready compassion. Govill gets to handle the play's best
prose (an extended recollection of the old Sarajevo) and the play's most
wrenching scene, which really does make you want to leave your seat and grab
a first aid kit. Reeves could have kept a closer rein on some things. Govill
(playing a Croat) uses what sounds like a thick Russian accent in an
otherwise accent-free production, and Rusiecki has been permitted to turn in
a placid, almost mellow performance that is out of touch with the emergency
of the story. Still, the cast (and script) do collectively resonate.

There's little happiness in "Liberation". It's a heavy, often grueling play.
It's also a good one.

presented by Rude Guerrilla Theater Company
at the Empire Theater, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana.
Th-Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 2:30pm thru April 27. $15, $12 for students, teachers & seniors. 714.547.4688.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

And it feels like rain....

Listening of Buddy Guy's cover of John Hiatt's "Feels Like Rain" and thinking of Lake Ponchatrain. Once it gets its hooks in you, you'll never get the Big Easy out of your heart....

"Batten down your hatches, baby
Leave your heart out on your sleeve"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

For Teddy

Those of us with Irish blood often let music speak for us....

"Losing My Religion" by R.E.M.

|F . . . | . Dm G . | Am . Am/B . | Am/C . Am/D Am|
|F . . . | . Dm G . | Am . . . |

G Am
Oh, life is bigger
It's bigger than you
And you are not me.
The lengths that I will go to,
The distance in your eyes,
Em Dm
Oh no, I've said too much,
I set it up.

That's me in the corner,
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion.
Trying to keep up with you.
And I don't know if I can do it.
Em Dm
Oh no, I've said too much,
I haven't said enough.

I thought that I heard you laughing,
Dm G Am Am/B Am/C Am/D
I thought that I heard you sing.
Am F F Dm G Am
I think I thought I saw you try.

G Am Em
Every Whisper of every waking hour
I'm choosing my confessions,
Trying to keep an eye of you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool, fool
Em Dm
Oh no, I've said too much,
I set it up.

Consider this, consider this,
The hint of a century,
Consider this: the slip
That brought me to my knees failed.
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around?
Dm G
Now I've said too much.

I thought that I heard you laughing,
Dm G Am Am/B Am/C Am/D
I thought that I heard you sing.
Am F F Dm G Am G
I think I thought I saw you try.


Mandolin fill:

Am G
e| -12-12-12-10-10-10-10-10- 8- 8- 8- 5- 5- 5- 5- 5- |
B| ------------------------------------------------- |
G| ------------------------------------------------- |
D| ------------------------------------------------- |

e| -12-12-12-10-10-10-10-10- 8- 8- 8- 5- 5- 5- 5- 5- |
B| ------------------------------------------------- |
G| ------------------------------------------------- |
D| ------------------------------------------------- |

But that was just a dream,
That was just a dream.

That's me in the corner,
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion.
Trying to keep up with you.
And I don't know if I can do it.
Em Dm
Oh no, I've said too much,
I haven't said enough.

I thought that I heard you laughing,
Dm G Am Am/B Am/C Am/D
I thought that I heard you sing.
Am F F Dm G Am Am/B Am/C Am/D Am
I think I thought I saw you try.
F Dm G
But that was just a dream,
Am Am/B Am/C Am/D Am
Try, cry, why, try.
F Dm G Am G
That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream, dream.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

More Weird Music

Here's Blonde Redhead's "23"...a new current fave. Who says psychedelia's dead?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Talking to Myself and Others

The gracious and patient playwright Adam Szymkowicz (right) just did an interview with yours truly, which can be read here his blog:

I Interview Playwrights Part 40: Steve Patterson

And, as you may note, there are 39 other, preceding interviews with actually interesting playwrights to peruse, plus tales of Adam's many adventures in the theatre. Great blog.


Friday, August 21, 2009

The Best Place in the World

I'm not entirely certain about this, but there's a very good chance that this could be the best place in the world.

Coop's Place

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Target Sighted and Destroyed

So some typical Weekly World News type writes a bullshit column about Obama's mother-in-law practicing voodoo in the White House (no racism there, no), and the Wonkette, doing what the Wonkette does best, slaughters her with snark. What does said wingnut do but write to Wonkette with a whining, wheedling cry for...well, it's supposed to be a plea for understanding, but really comes across more as a cry for help. (Jump, Kristen! Jump!) Upon which the Wonkette and the blog's commenters rise up en masse to swarm-sting her so mercilessly that you almost want to call out for them to stop, lest the deranged woman be blasted into tiny, jagged pieces.

In other words, it's the funniest thing since the dismembered Black Knight kept taunting King Arthur. "It's just a flesh wound!"

Kristen Atkinson in the Lion's Den

Face it, Kristen. There's a goat's head out there with your name on it.

White Rabbit House

...and there nothing like kicking back and doing some shrooms to relieve the stress of dealing with dopey bastards at town halls. Crank up the Jefferson Airplane, Barack!

"But, if we think of existence as a continuum, past and present and future existing simultaneously, man."
"Uh-huh, uh-huh."
"Then we can postulate...ah...that...uh.... What was I sayin'?"
"Oneness. No duality."
"Duality? Or, twoality?"
"'Cause you said oneness."
"I did? What were you sayin'?"
(Pause. Insane laughter breaks out.)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

365 Days of Being Experienced

It was almost exactly a year ago that, on a whim, I wandered into a Portland music store, saw a Fiesta Red Stratocaster, and went: I want that guitar.

Since then, we've been through some ups and down, Red and I. Some buggy electronics had to be fixed. The cord jack has been replaced. A tuner broke and had to be replaced, and eventually I may have all the tuners upgraded. I've switched to the marvelous Ernie Ball Super Slinky strings, who have allowed me to play some things I just couldn't manage on middle-weight Fender strings. I added an effects box and a wah-wah pedal, and I'm thinking of buying myself a looper for my birthday. And I've gone from barely being able to play A, D, and E chords and not being able to strum to some facility in strumming and finally being able to play the dreaded B chord and some barre chords. And even eke out a little bit of lead. It's been a journey.

Beginning around 1980, actually. I was in Southern Oregon for summer vacation between my sophomore and junior years of college, and a buddy of mine wanted to take a look at a Strat a guy in Gold Hill had for a sale. I offered to drive because I thought it'd be interesting (and to help a friend), and when we got there, the Strat was sitting on a stand in front of Fender amp (a Twin Reverb, I believe). When the guy plugged in and played what I now recognize as a minor pentatonic scale, my heart just turned over. That sound. As I recall, my friend passed on the guitar, but I thought seriously--seriously--about it. But I was a poverty-stricken college student and I just couldn't let myself go for it.

The fork not taken. Now, I wonder how my life might have been different. Not that I'd be in a band or anything, but all the friends I might have made and good (or bad) times I might have had, because having a guitar--especially an electric guitar--changes you. It's like the door to a another society. I never knew how many of my friends play guitars until I bought one, and suddenly people were saying, hey, let's get together, man. And not just guitars, but drums, basses, keyboards. Having an electric guitar in your life becomes an organizing principle. Inevitably in life, you realize some things too late (about eight years ago, I realized another fork I missed, which was foregoing photojournalism for straight reporting, a choice that might have let me stay in journliasm while leaving my head free to write fiction). But then, as Tom Stoppard wrote, every exit is an entrance somewhere else. Maybe one of those choices might have prevented me from becoming a playwright, which--as frustrating as that field is sometimes--I would very much regret not having experienced. The would-haves and could-have will only make you crazy, and there's nothing you can do about them anyway.

As with any art, I'm finding that the learning process has slopes, plateaus, and downgrades. You work to achieve a certain facility, then you enjoy that awhile, and then you move on to the next step, only to find out the more you know, the more the complexity of your task increases. Next year this time, assuming I stick with it, I hope I'll look back to now and shake my head at what little I knew. The current plan is to increase my facility in changing chords and learning some blues licks as to improve my meager lead vocabulary, along with the practicing required to actually play what I'm learning. Plus I'd like to spend more time playing with others because it exponentially jacks up the fun quotient (and makes you a better player, I think). Wisely, I think, I'm trying to keep my goals modest and attainable, because it's failing to achieve those big leaps that can sometimes discourage you. Now, nearly every day I pick up the axe, I feel progress. That's good for the soul

But the main thing is it's still fun, despite some evening such as last night, when nothing worked and I was too tired to tune up properly, and it was just chaotic noise (as opposed to creative noise, which I'm rather fond of). And, unlike the kid who still kind of aches for that sunburst brown Strat with the white pickguard (I still see it in my mind's eye), I have a lifetime of musical experience as a listener with broad and eclectic tastes to bring to the endeavor. Which is why I can have as much fun playing Tom Waits' "Jockey Full of Bourbon" as I do playing the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil."

So here's to Leo Fender (and Les Paul, while we're at it) and trying new (and old) things. I suppose this has been a year that's changed my life, but, the truth is, they all do. Just some more than others. And thanks to the friends, family, teachers, and other compadres who have put up with my fumbling and stumbling and blown notes and excuses and apologies and who have graciously encouraged me, even when I was making noises that could cause small animals to shrivel and die.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Les Paul Lives

The headlines yesterday, of course, read that Les Paul passed away at 94--which is about 180 in musician years, so he had a good run. And what a lot of good he did. But even though the man has exited the stage, his ideas, in the form of some of the most beautiful guitars ever made, will live on and on and on, in guitar cases and on countless MP3s, CDs, vinyl LPs, singles, and live performances. (Not to mention minor contributions such as multi-track recording.) So Les Paul lives. More or less forever. (And that's coming from a Fender guy.)

Les Paul Dies

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Looking for the Heart of a Saturday Night

The initmatable Mead Hunter, who loves music as much (or maybe even more) than theatre--an obsession I, of course, share--recently posted some classic pieces from television shows on his blog (to wit: "They don't make 'em like this anymore"), which prompted a bunch of folks to chime in (so to speak) regarding other memorable themes, and yours truly wondered who wrote the wonderful Saturday Night Closing theme song.

No one answered, so I took a quick tour through Googleland and found it was Howard Shore, SNL's original musical director, and the tune is "Closing Theme (A Waltz In A)."

It never stuck me before as being in 3/4 time. What did strike me about it was the flood of memories it triggered, a lot of good times nights, probably a little bent, hanging with your friends...looking for heart of a Saturday Night. There was a time when Saturday Night was so much a part of the social fabric of my comrades that parties stopped when SNL came on...or at least shifted their emphasis. Saturday night kept going after the show was over, but it was part and parcel of the booze...and whatever...and laughs and tail chasing and whatnot that makes up life in your 20s. I can actually remember slow dancing to the tune with this utterly beautiful...but that's another story, and a long time ago. And I can remember swaying arm in arm with friends as the cast often swayed arm in arm. It was kind of a time when you felt invincible and did everything you could to test it.

I still watch the show now and again, but it seems to have lost some of its magic. I was there at the beginning...I remember watching the first episode with George Carlin as the host and thinking: my God...what is this? How could something this good get on television? And for a kid living in the Northwest sticks, it was a window into a faraway hipdom that introduced me to musicians like Elvis Costello and Talking Heads. You spent Saturday Night in front of the TV for 90 minutes then spent two hours at the record store the next day. Like Rolling Stone magazine in its heyday, it sewed the tribe together.

Time passes on, as do Not Ready for Primetime Players and, more sadly, friends. But music remains, which is another reason we love it--because it can transport you to the deeply buried television or movie house or photo album in your mind. So here you go...raise a glass...and let your cynicism ebb a bit and the memories circle woozily: neon, tequila, cigarettes, and ratty couch full of ratty friends, who you love very much.

Nostalgia may be a trap, but, taken in small doses, it's not the worst of drugs....

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Music is My Mardi Gras

Lately, I've been going through one of my Missing New Orleans periods. It's inevitable for anyone who's lived there any time at all because, really, there's no other place like it, and I think the hot weather stirs the memories (cue Louis Armstrong's "(You Don't What It Means) To Miss New Orleans" or Tom Waits' "I wish I was in New Orleans (in the Ninth Ward)").

Scratching the itch, I watched Les Blank's documentary "All for Pleasure" about New Orleans and it's year-round carnival mindset, including a lovely section on how cook crayfish during which the cook pours a shoebox full of cayenne pepper in the boiling pot, and there's a brief bit where this all-American guy's looking out his window at a bunch of happy drunks wearing green bowlers for St. Patrick's Day, and he turns to the camera and says something like, "You know, there ain't no place in the world where you can do that. Where you can just drink beer in the street and throw your cans in the gutter. It's a place where you can feel a little bit free." And he says it with such love that, even though it's absurd, if you've lived there and seen pretty much, well, everything, and accepted it with a shrug, warts and all, you can't help but feel your heart turn ever so slightly.

Also, nothing ever gets done down there. The place is falling apart. It's a lousy place for ambition and worse for consistency (excepting certain traditions, for which there are no exceptions...like hangovers for Lent). So, for an ambitious artist who finds himself working harder and harder and sometimes wondering why and why, you have to have a Mardi Gras for the soul. And, coming up on my first-year anniversary of playing guitar, I think I've found a little Mardi Gras I can carry with me.

That is, when I play guitar--and granted I still don't play and probably never will play well--the world just kind of goes away...and can just fuck off, man. The other day, a buddy came over, brought his Ibanez with a Gibson/humbucker set-up, and we tried a couple songs, had some laughs, told some stories (some of which we'd both told before but listened through again), and then at some point we tried playing "Police on My Back" by The Clash, and suddenly, when we hit that chorus ("Monday, Tuesday..."), we both fell into the same rhythm pattern automatically, and it was like...groove. And we both sat back and went, hey! Like good drugs, you immediately want more.

It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't have to be good. Nobody's starting a band or looking to make money. I'm a professional writer and a semi-professional photographer, and, believe me, that's enough pro art for anybody. But it's nice to synch into that moment and feel the flow. Which really is what the blues is all about and what I bought the guitar to learn.

It's one thing to have music in your ears. It's another to have it in your hands. It's your own little Mardi Gras, and it's all for pleasure.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Well...all right then....

...that clears that up. Waiter...a bib please....



Agence France-Presse

THE HAGUE — Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor on Monday denied that he had ever eaten human flesh or ordered his fighters to do so as he answered allegations of cannibalism at his war crimes trial.

“It is sickening. You must be sick to believe it,” the one-time warlord testified in the Special Court for Sierra Leone, sitting in The Hague.

“It makes you feel like throwing up.”

Taylor, 61, said he could not dispute that there were cannibals in certain parts of Liberia, but claims that he was among them were “total nonsense”.

A witness had testified at the trial that he ate human flesh with Taylor at a gathering of a secret society, Poro.

“It never happened,” the ex-president retorted, adding: “I never ordered any combatant to eat anyone.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

For a friend...

...actually, this is appropriate for a number of friends. As Dan Rather used say as he firmly put on his tinfoil hat: "Courage."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

This Writing Thing

This may seem weird, but when I think of my sometimes complicated relationship with playwriting and theatre...and believe me, it's complicated...these lyrics from The Band sum up my feelings nicely. All the times I've quit, sworn it off, said goddamn it...walk away. Then picked up the pen again. And quietly thought: Smart people believe in you...maybe this time, you'll get it right.

Out of the Blue

Out of this world
Out of this mind
Out of this love for you
Out of this world
Out of the blue
Out of this love for you

Sometimes I don't know you
You're like someone else
But that's all right
I'm a stranger here myself

She don't shed a tear
When I walk out that door
She knows, she knows
I'll be coming back for more

Out of this world
Out of this mind
Out of this love for you
Out of this world
Out of the blue
Out of this love for you

It's in the cards
It's written in the stars
It's in the wee-wee hours
In some lonely bar

She don't stay up all night
And walk the floor
She knows damn well
I'll be coming back for more

Out of this world
Out of this mind
Out of this love for you
Out of this world
Out of the blue
Out of this love for you

Airing the Laundry

Fascinating post from the Parabasis blog. My first read of it left me cross-eyed and despairing (especially since I'm trained as a journalist), but another part of me feels defiant: fuck that shit. Let 'em get their MFAs...I got plays to write.

Life is short, baby.


The Delusion Driving Much of American Theater

The Artful Manager has athought-provoking post up about The Amateur Vs. Professional divide in the arts in the age of the internet. He also quotes Clay Shriky's Here Comes Everybody, which I happen to be reading right now (and really, if you care about blogging or want to understand the internet's impact on society, is a must read). He ends it by asking this question:

what is the role of the expert and the excellent in a distributed world? How do we preserve space and return value to those who are extraordinary (by whatever measure you pick)?

I don't think that's a professional/amateur question -- although that's the frame we tend to use. In fact, I think the professional/amateur debate in the arts is clouding the deeper conversation.

This is worth thinking about in theatre, because our current system largely rewards club-house membership, not excellence, and it's because we have increasingly established and codified paths to being deemed a professional that have to do with attendance of the correct schools, interning at the correct summer festivals, (and having the money to be able to do so) etc. and only somewhat to do with doing good work. This is only growing more problematic as many cities have LORT "professional" theaters that are outnumbered by "pro-am" theater companies (and by Pro-Am I mean theaters and artists doing professional quality work for amateur wages and largely in an amateur environment). Portland, Oregon has two LORT theaters and over a hundred Pro-Am companies. LA's theatre scene is almost entirely ProO-Am, as is San Francisco's. A large percentage of DC theatre is Pro-Am, as is Chicago's and New York's. In fact, I'm pretty sure in terms of number of productions, the majority (or at least plurality) of theatre produced in this country is probably Pro-Am (and i use this term to distinguish it from truly amateur productions such as community theatre).

And here's the thing: most of the artists working in the Pro-Am circuit have very very little chance of crossing over. They are, essentially, pursuing a delusion as a result of a category erorr, namely that the Pro-Am circuit and the LORT/Institutional circuit are part of the same system. They are not, or at least, it's more helpful to think of them as two sepearate systems. The path to working at LORT/Institutional theaters lies not in the Pro-Am circuit. it lies (largely, i know there are exceptions) in the institutional circuit, in interning at Humana, Apprenticing at Williamstown and going to UCSD or Yale (there are other paths out there, but this one is the clearest). Why is this? Because as theater has professionalized over the last fifty years, it has also adopted a Shadow Professional Certification System. It's a shadow system because it's largely social in nature; you don't have to pass a writing bar exam to be a playwright, but if you want to make a living doing it, you probably need to have gone to one of seven graduate programs. And I'm not going to say there's no relationship between Shadow Certification and Quality... there is, it's just not 1:1. There's plenty of terrible artists out there with MFAs from Yale (and awesome ones too, don't get me wrong).

If we want to understand what's going on in theatre in this country, we have to start looking at the Pro-Am circuit as its own beast that interrelates but is separate from the LORT-Institutional system. For one thing, we need to start studying it. There are very few studies out there of this world. The NYTIF is doing yeoman's (or, I suppose yeowoman's) work in documenting the scene here in New York, and I know David Dower will be presenting findings on this at the NEA NPDBlog over at Areana's website.

I also think (and I'm trying to develop this into a larger and longer piece to be published elsewhere) it's in the LORT systems' best interests to try to find ways to learn about, be more involved with and collaborate with the Pro-Am system and start to break down the walls a bit. Why? Because, well... we have the audiences they want, the creative energy they need and the next generation of artsits likes working with us. I don't recall The Vampire Cowboys ever complaining about their audiences being too old, or too white, or not passionate about the work they do. And Youngblood doesn't have any problem getting people of all ages and races to come watch ten minute play festivals on Sunday mornings in the middle of winter and their space is a brutal, windy walk from the C/E train and roughly an hour away from where most of their spectators lives. In discussions with playwrights, they indicated a strong preference for working with theatre companies like Crowded Fire in San Francisco, who perform their shows in a space with less than fifty seats for fewer than twenty performances.

... adding I should also say that on some subconscious level artists working in ProAm know this already. When you talk to your friends in New York who want to quit New York and move to a smaller city, it is generally NOT to work at a LORT theatre there but rather to found their own theatre in the hopes that it will become a sustainable endeavor someday.