Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Let's Dance


For the last several weeks I've also been working with Buglisi Dance Theater on something kind of exciting. Essentially, I'm going to be appearing with them for their season at the Joyce Theater in New York.

I'll be drawing during the performance of their piece, Acapellarus (A Walrus Tale) and as I draw, the picture will be projected behind the dancers so that by the end of the piece there will be a complete drawing behind them.

It seemed like a good idea at the time . . .

I'll have more to say about this in the days ahead, but you should totally reserve your seats now . . .

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hiding Out In The Big City Blinking

The In The Attic show from last week is being shown on Towser TV for a while. I'm watching it now. It's a strange feeling to watch a show I attended. And downright surreal to see my little head up in the corner of the booth, illuminated by the tiny light of my lamp. You won't be able to see it, but I can, starting with the Amos Lee set. I know where I was; I'm in this film.

Hmm--Memory's a strange thing. According to the instant replay, it was Amos Lee and Pete that had the exchange I wrote about the other day. Jeremy and I were talking a little while ago about what I miss when I'm focused on my drawing. I guess it's true that sometimes details get lost in the blur of paying attention to the details. Seems I hear things and they don't register exactly because my eye is busy trying to figure out where the line of the cheek intersects with the bridge of a nose or maybe I'm trying to gauge how far above the eye the brow is and what the angle of the shadow between them is.

Recently I've been working on a project that I'll talk more about next week, but it's forced me to think about the way I process or connect with the information in the room. Drawing has always been a sort of escape for me, a thing I could do to simultaneously disconnect from the world around me and process my emotions, feel in a safe environment, be present and removed at the same time.

The other day I was leaving a rehearsal and the choreographer came to me and asked my opinion about a moment in the final sequence of the dance and I had no reaction. Now, this was partly because it was the morning after the In The Attic show, a day which saw me do 10 complete drawings--of a rehearsal and two shows--which has got to be some sort of personal record. I was tired and I was drained and all I really wanted as I left the room was to sleep a bit. But my blank stare also had to do with what I pay attention to when I'm drawing.

Joan always tells me that she sees me as a scholar as well as an artist, a thinker as well as a reactor. But, that hasn't been entirely true. I certainly have had that potential, but, to be honest, I haven't really lived up to it. I haven't had to. I've been blessed and spoiled. I've been a back-seat driver. I've gotten to be present in some extraordinary situations with the only demand being that I draw something. But no one ever really has any expectations about it. I come and go as I please and I draw things or I don't and people either want them or not and it hasn't really mattered to me either way.

Which is not to say that I haven't taken what I do very seriously; I do to an obsessive degree. For many years now, I've been teaching myself to draw, refining my style and learning to trust the interaction between ink and an empty space; but, I have been an observer and not a participant.

That's about to change.

(photo by Kimberlee Hewitt)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Songs In The Attic

OK. I could tell you about it, but Pete has a blog now and you can read all about it there.

No. Wait. All he's gonna talk about is the comedy sketch he did with Jimmy Fallon? OK--fair enough--he does talk about the real magic that happened when he played with Lou Reed, but . . . jeez, Pete--details, man. To be honest, I'd forgotten about the comedy bit; no offense to you or Mr. Fallon, who was a great co-host for the evening. I mean, when you and Lou Reed sang Pale Blue Eyes together . . . well, was it as good for you as it was for me?

When you played "It's a Motherfucker" with Rachel Fuller (who, I'm sure you call--I dunno--"The Missus"), Do you think, "Wow, there are still such great songs being written?"

And when you and Jay Mascis rocked out on See Me, Feel Me, you had to be smiling somewhere deep in your soul. I know I was.

Or maybe the fact is that you just like to play some good music with some good people and not have to project to a crowd of thirty thousand or more.

Whatever the case, that was something special and I get to go to the grave remembering the night Pete Townshend and Lou Reed played their first set together and they were every bit as good as everything that had come before them--Rachel Yamagata, Amos Lee, J. Mascis, Rachel Fuller and Jimmy Fallon were all working at that crazy high level. And they seemed to be having a really nice time.

At one point, Rachel Yamagata said, "and here's something I'll never be saying again: Ladies and gentlemen--Pete Townshend, " and Pete came on stage, went to the microphone and said, "until you say it again some time" and I thought, "wow. Life--and sheer ambition--has brought a lot of stuff to him, but there goes one gracious man."

And maybe that's it. Maybe the reason Pete's experience was notable for the comic bit and a shrug of "magic" is because when you reach a certain point, and you're staying committed, grace--in the sense of something inherently divine, flowing through a person--the music--is both a thing to be honored by remaining present and dismissed so as not to be reduced to description. It is what it was.

A good night out.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wild Night

The place was dark and the DJ was spinning, framed in the back light of an illuminated photograph below the one of Joe Papp getting ready to step out with or without his baby. I don't know what was happening backstage, what one does to prepare for an extended groove, but I imagine it involves a lot of closing your eyes and slow shoulder shimmying. When the band took the stage and the exotic dancer began grinding next to me, twirling her boa like an invitation, it occurred to me: more performers should have strippers.

Meshell Ndegeocello loves me.

I know this because she came out and began chanting "I love You" like a mantra doubling as a test balloon. Seems she wanted the lights dimmer and the mood smoother. She may not have looked sultry in the knit cap and the over-sized shorts and jacket, but who needs to go the extra mile when you've got a dancer grinding on you and working the crowd? And sultry doesn't have to do with fashion when it comes to the bass anyway.

Now, she didn't pick up the bass often and she wasn't there to sing song after song like this was your typical concert. In fact, it seemed to me she was more interested in orchestrating a vibe and keeping it going. When she reached the end of her set, she just looked out as if her job was done and told us to "go home and have sex."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love is a Rose

Happy Valentine's Day.

Despite the fact that it's a manufactured holiday and your heart's broken and love is complicated and life's unfair and tonight I'm sleeping alone and you might be too and that it isn't so much a half-full or half-empty thing as it is a "where'd I put that glass anyway?" sort of situation.

Happy Valentine's Day to you.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Somebody's Watching Me

Monday, February 05, 2007

Relax and Float Downstream

It's been a long time since I simply sat down and listened to an album all the way through. I used to love to pop a CD on the stereo, pull out a drawing pad and let my mind go.

Back in Chicago, Linda and I used to make the monthly special posters for Hamilton's, the bar where we worked. I had to pencil, ink and color six of them every month. It was tedious work after the first one. In order to get through it, I would pop on Rust Never Sleeps and time would disappear. In fact, Rust Never Sleeps became the preferred album of my doodling; if I felt like letting go and just drawing, Neil and Crazy Horse were my soundtrack. Many years later, after I had first moved to new York, Alex gave me Oscar Peterson's Night Train and my drawing pads from that period are filled with whimsy inspired by Peterson, Ed Thigpen and Roy Brown.

But then two things happened. First of all, I began drawing rehearsals, and music--although present in most dance studios--became a lesser part of the inspiration. Trying to draw what was in front of me became the imperative, more important than letting my imagination go and seeing what would happen. Also, soon after moving to New York, along came Napster, the MP3 era and the shuffle option on my IPod and music-listening became an exercise in strolling through selections from my collection and songs snatched out of the context of their original album.


Recently I received Joanna Newsom's Ys. I'd been hearing a lot of buzz about it on the blogs and I listened to the argument about it on All Songs Considered's end-of-year "Best Of" program, so I was intrigued. However, the thought of slogging through Five songs, averaging ten minutes or so each didn't really appeal.

Yes. I fight a serious shallow-streak. I am impatient and fidgety and agree with Carrie Fisher who once said, "The problem with instant gratification is that it takes too long." At least when it comes to music.


Sitting in The Fall Cafe one day last week, I decided to listen to one of my new albums (on the IPod I named after my cousin Max who gave it to me). And I remembered I had just put Ys into the mix. I clicked on it it, got instantly lost in the music and started doodling away. It took three listens over the course of about a week to remind me of how wonderful it can be to just listen to some beautiful music and let the mind wander . . .

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sxipped Again

I get an email from Sxip about once a week on average. They don't actually come once a week, but when you factor in the corrections and updates, I think the average comes to once a week. In fairness, I'm on his list. I've been on his list for a couple of years and tracking his success through his email blasts has been pretty fascinating.

He's got a singular vision, he pursues it doggedly and, he's an entertaining guy who surrounds himself with other entertaining folks.

We both came to New York from Austin at about the same time and we have a lot of the same friends. Once, long ago, he wrote the music for Craving Gravy by John Walch, a play I performed in back when I was acting instead of finishing my dissertation. Craving Gravy was the best show I've ever been involved with; the only time I've ever been on a stage and understood exactly how amazing, cathartic and grounding the act of acting can be. It was a show I needed to be doing at a time I needed to be doing a show.

It changed my life and provided a blueprint for a lot of what followed.


Sxip and I have a routine and it is Groundhog Day-like in its never-changing structure. Whenever I see him at a party or at one of his concerts, someone introduces us and I say, "You did the music for a play I was in a long time ago." And he says, "oh, yeah? What play?" Then I say, "Craving Gravy." And he says something like, "that was you?" or "that was the first play I did music for" or "wow, it's nice to finally meet you." And Sxip is always present in his introduction to me, because he never remembers the last time we performed the routine.

But last night at Joe's Pub, we might finally have woken up the next day, because the show was a memorable one and the drawing went well and we talked a couple of times and Sxip emailed me today to thank me for being there.

By the way, one of the performers last night was Scotty the Blue Bunny, who's in the neighborhood of six foot five before the spike pumps go on. He performs in sparkling spandex with bunny ears, and usually sports a glass of white wine. Scotty says I am adorable and offered to let me fuck him. I passed with a gracious blush, but I'll never be able to say that didn't happen.

UPDATE: Someone else blogged about Sxip's band, the Luminescent Orchestrii and included a couple of MP3s . . . check it out.