Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cut-Out, Trickled Down and In The World

One of the great days of my life happened about a year ago, sitting on stage at Carnegie Hall with the Juilliard Orchestra. I had been asked to do some drawings of the Juilliard School as part of my exhibition for the windows of Lord and Taylor. Now, for the most part the drawings chosen for the windows were kind of "my greatest hits." The way it worked was I went through six years of theatre and dance drawings and chose my fifty or so favorites and then the art-director at L&T went through those and chose his 15 favorites.


Because Lord and Taylor had already planned on featuring Juilliard in the windows they asked if I would do some additional drawings. Furthermore, because it was the end of the school year and because the whole thing was pretty much done at the last-minute, I only had five days to do these drawings. Also, they said, they would use one of the drawings in an ad in the New York Times. "How many do you think you can do?" they wondered.


Five days to do several drawings, one of which would be my Times debut and all of which had to be able to sit in the windows next to the best work I had done over a period of six years.

It's a good thing I like pressure.
One of my favorite things in the world is going into a CD store and flipping through the cut-out discs and finding some new music that I've been wondering about for five dollars. They're usually promo copies that have leaked out.

Or maybe it's an album that I think is great but, for whatever reason, it didn't sell and there are a bunch of extra copies that the universe is just trying to make a little money back on.

I love, love, love these CDs and my devotion to the process of finding them is one of the qualifying elements that makes me a bona-fide music geek.

But I've often wondered what an artist would feel like going in and finding his life's blood sitting in the rebate bin. Authors probably feel the same way, wandering into the Strand and seeing boxes of their hard-work piled up, priced to move and selling for a buck.
So, I get there a few minutes early and enter through the stage door with the musicians and my mind flashes to the Beatles making the same entrance all those years ago. There are theatres and performance spaces as famous as--or more famous than--the performers who perform there and I've been blessed enough to get to draw in a couple of them--The Metropolitan Opera House, City Center, The Public Theater. But there's something about coming up those stairs, turning left and walking out on to the stage of Carnegie Hall that forces you to remember that excellence is the expected standard. I went and sat out in the empty house, watching the orchestra assemble and tried not to think about it.

I was just starting to choke back the fear, when Ed came up to me and suggested that I sit on the risers behind the orchestra, that maybe it would offer a unique view of the rehearsal. The risers were upstage of the musicians, which would mean I was looking out past them into the empty seats of the hall from the upstage center of the stage. Now I have a general impulse in any situation like that, a desire to see the thing-being-seen from an angle that makes it different, that makes the thing you know new. But sitting there in the sea of empty seats. looking at the stage, all I could see was The Thing, the stage of Carnegie Hall. It's impressive and awe-inspiring, but it's impressive and awe-inspiring because it's been done so many times that you've seen it before you see it.

"Really?" I asked Ed, "I can sit up there?"
Last week, I was sitting, drinking my coffee, when Henry, the owner of the Fall Cafe came up to me excitedly. "I bought your book!" he said. It was morning and I wasn't quite awake yet and I certainly wasn't understanding what Henry was saying to me because I have no books.

Well, there was this one book I did with Mike Renquist where I provided some illustrations for his motivational thinking. That book was published by a small press and every six months or so we each get a residual check. The last two checks, sent in envelopes with fifty cent stamps, were literally made out for "zero dollars and zero cents."

They issued checks and paid postage to tell me that.


I had no idea what Henry was talking about.
So, I sit down and look out and, while the orchestra is tuning, I pull out my cell phone and call my Dad from the stage of Carnegie Hall and share the moment with him. I believe the conversation went something like this:

"Hey, Dayo (Note: I have always called my father "Dayo"), how do you get to Carnegie Hall?"

"I don't know, Mike; how do you get to Carnegie Hall?"


And we laugh because that joke is especially funny when you're sitting on stage at Carnegie Hall--try it some time. Then I tell him I have to go and I can't really hear too well--la de dah--because there is an orchestra sprawled before me.

And then they ripped into Mahler's 3rd and I think I passed out because the next conscious thing I truly remember was looking down and seeing this drawing that had appeared in my pad and realizing that, at some point, a large choir of women had surrounded me and were singing like angels.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," I said to Henry.

"There's a man that sells used books on his stoop up on Clinton and he had a copy of your Juilliard book. I bought it--will you sign it?"

"Oh. Really?"

After the exhibit I sent a thank you to the guy in development who was in charge of the Juilliard Centenial, a booklet of the best six pieces from my few days of drawing that I printed at home. I called the book "Five Days at Juilliard." and it looked good--a couple of drawings of the orchestra, one of the jazz combo and a backstage drawing of Marissa doing hair in the dressing room for a Brecht production. He liked the book so much that Juilliard bought fifty copies to distribute to the Board of Trustees. So I hand-made them, using my pigment-ink, archival quality printer and the binder I bought for just such occassions. The books turned out nice, but I hadn't really thought of them for a long time.

Somehow that book made its way from the Upper West side to a Brooklyn stoop three blocks from where it had been printed and bound in my front room.

Take it from me, because I've been there--The sound of a great orchestra reverberating around the stage of Carnegie Hall hasn't met a metaphor up to the task of describing it. But the echo . . .

How do you get to the Fall Cafe?

Practice, son . . .


Anonymous Mike Renquist said...

Several thoughts resonating with you on this piece since I too have been on that stage, performing no less...along with 300 other singers. Great perspective in that drawing. We should really do something about that book.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous colleen said...

the picture and the story are just lovely. blog post of the year. i wish you could draw my show!

11:31 PM  

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