Monday, August 24, 2009

The Captain

Kasey Chambers, her husband, Shane Nicholson and her father, Bill at Joe's Pub last week.

Friday, August 21, 2009

(re-)Passing Strange

Just slightly over a year ago, I got to sit in on the final day of filming for Spike Lee's take on Stew and Heidi's Passing Strange. Now that the movie is out and getting all sorts of rave reviews, I thought I'd share a link to the original post.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Medal Winner

Chita Rivera and a few other luminaries were awarded the Medal of Freedom this week. I thought, in honor of her getting a new piece of jewelry, I'd re-post this drawing from a few years back.

I got to draw Ms. Rivera during the final weekend of the Broadway run of her show, A Dancer's Life. Prints of the drawing were given as Closing Night presents from one of the producers to the cast.

Earlier this year, my path crossed Ms. Rivera's again, backstage at the Theatre Guild Benefit. She was holding a paper plate from the make-shift catering table and talking to the drag queens and showgirls in the dining hall we were using as a green-room below the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center.

There's something truly special about watching the mundane world of backstage chatter when it features a living legend. Yesterday at the gym, when I looked up at the television and saw the President of the United States tying the Medal of Freedom around Chita Rivera's neck, I flashed back to the woman sitting on a fold-up chair and smiling, turning her head to greet another well wisher, a grand dame of theater, still waiting for her cue, perpetually ready to get on stage and hoof it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tour pics

So, for most of July, I was out there on the road with the town of Balthrop, Alabama, drawing on the big screen while the band played all the hits.

(You can click on the Facebook sidebar over there on the right if you wanna catch up on our many video updates from the trip. Georgiana Starlington got real serious about her role as a talk show host and was all the time making these videos about what our favorite things were--the Balthrop, Alabama Facebook page is full of them.)

During the trip, I decided it would be fun to try and draw a journal of the road from the car. I have to admit, I wasn't too diligent about it, but it was fun while it lasted. It started strong enough as we left the Northeast, but I was pretty much over it by the time we hit California (the road drawing, not the tour).

We had a good time as always. Everyone in the band gets along so well; we mostly laugh to pass the time. It helps that everyone's clever and kind and you couldn't ask for a better group of folks to cozy up to for a seven thousand mile drive around the country. Sometimes we smell bad, that's the truth, but the less said about that the better.

You meet a lot of interesting people out there in America. In the Midwest, this woman who ran the club we played, came out to watch as we were strapping some of our gear to the top of the van. "Sounds like you're whipping jews out here!" she declared. We must have looked at her funny, because she quickly tried to defuse the situation, by saying, "It's OK--I made out with one last week."

I gotta say, we put on a pretty good show. Don't take my word for it though--there was this guy that came up to me after one performance and told me, "That was the best three dollars I ever spent! Seriously, that there was a ten dollar show!" I guess we're still trying to find our price point, but in troubled economic times, it's nice to offer folks a bargain.

We like to swim every chance we get and have been known to detour miles for a good swimming hole. In Montana we jumped into a mountain stream that was about the coldest water I've ever dipped my delicates into. Chris lost his sunglasses in the current, I left some shorts in Chicago, Jason left an air mattress cover in a hotel somewhere and Pascal had to buy a fancy new bathing suit in Phoenix, but for the most part we returned with what we had, plus a tan. Josh was peeling from his sunburn after California, which he'd never done before. He still looks like Josh, only one layer of skin less and darker.

One of our favorite nights was the night we got to Amarillo about the same time as a Texas thunderstorm. For the last mile or two it looked like we were racing a tornado to town and we might just lose, but we got there in time and had a great show.

The evening ended in a recording studio owned by the guy who ran our sound that night. He had a bottle of good tequila--which he drank exclusively because beer has too many calories--and a bunch of talented friends, and he was generous with both. So we stayed up late--but not too late--listening to music and being inspired. It was the kind of night that makes the madness of touring seem completely worthwhile. Maybe, we're just lucky, because, out on tour, we have a lot of those nights. Or maybe we're just blessed to have a rabbit farmer that goes beyond all reason to take a town on tour.

I'm not gonna try to figure it out, I just count myself as a fortunate man.

Anyways, we went to a lot of places I've never been and I wish we'd had more time to see more things, but, for the most part, the trip was a joy and I miss everyone now that we're back, despite the fact that I see most everyone in the band fairly often.

We'll probably do it again one way or another. There's a lot of swimming holes we missed and there were a couple of places we played where the four or five folks who showed up promised to bring more friends next time we came. In the meantime, we have a few shows closer to home and it's nice to be back in New York City.

This last drawing was started the first night of the tour in Pittsburgh and I finished it up in Athens, Ohio on the last night. It was my warm up sheet, the doodle page I played around with while I was focusing the camera and adjusting the screen. It was background to the band sound-checking and collecting the gear and if it looks like a crazy swirl of activity, then there's probably a reason for that.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wall of Sound

Last Wednesday, 200 guitarists, 15 bass players, four section leaders and a visionary composer gathered over at FIT to prepare for the rain date of Rhys Chatham's Crimson Grail. Last year's scheduled performance was reluctantly called when a day-long downpour left the power cords leading to the 50 watt amps submerged in puddles and the guitarists vulnerable beneath the saturated tree branches of Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park.

2/3 of last year's participants returned to try again, wandering in to the great conference center to mingle with the new recruits. The guitarists were directed to four large, separated rooms, to learn again their tunings as well as the symphonic vocabulary and conducting cues they would need to perform the piece. All were given new Ernie Ball guitar strings and a place to set up and everyone collectively began practicing and hoping for a clear sky.

The guitarists were divided into four groups--alto, tenor, bass, soprano--and then subdivided again and given specific tunings. For two days a vocabulary was established, a communication system was worked out and a leap of faith was taken that the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts, which, given the number of participants and the complexity of the conception, was both a great leap and a large sum. The four section leaders, primarily guitarists themselves joked good-naturedly as they worked at being conductors.

On Friday night, the entire group assembled in the main hall and gave The Crimson Grail its first full run through since the final practice a year earlier. Designed for an outdoor performance, the walls of the room struggled to enclose a sound that possessed a life of its own and a palpable desire to be let free in the world.

Saturday ended up being one of those glorious New York summer days, with low humidity and perfect weather. As the afternoon wore on, clouds appeared but did not threaten, and the players assembled again in Damrosch Park.

The performance itself was unlike anything I've experienced and I won't much try to describe it. I put my head down and drew until the finale of the piece lifted me from my seat along with all the rest of the crowd. I will say that catharsis in theatre and music is rare and highly valued and I understand that a little better now than I ever have before.

It's a poor substitute for being there, but if you want a sense of the musical power that drove the drawing below, you can check out the finale of the piece over here.