Emotionally compelling ‘The Beauty, The Banshee & Me’ at Whitefire Theatre

Review by John K. Adams

Children sometimes feel they were adopted regardless of their personal circumstances. Perhaps it is the beginning of the romantic imagination. Despite an ideal childhood, a child may sense a missed connection lurking in the shadows beyond their safe home.

The autobiographical, one-woman show, The Beauty, The Banshee & Me, written and performed by Cathy Lind Hayes, unflinchingly explores that yearning and her pursuit of the well-guarded truth about her birth parents.

It also exposes the emotional reasons for laws shielding privacy. When everyone seeks reconnection, those laws may seem arbitrary and cruel. But in a culture of convenience, privacy laws protect everyone when the threat of exposed shame might destroy more than any restored connection could heal.

Lind Hayes’ emotional and physical journey, despite legal barriers and warnings from all quarters, makes a compelling and poignant tale. Everyone pays a steep price for her to find this elusive and dubious truth.

Judged purely as performance, this play deserves to be seen. Hayes is a born storyteller and brings her audience to laughter and tears at will as she recounts her decades-long quest for reconnection with lost family.

Her portrayal of all the characters is vivid. She ensures everyone’s motives are understood, even when the resulting actions cause pain or damage relationships.

The Beauty, The Banshee & Me is a cautionary tale that may serve either camp to further their point. And it is also a remarkably well-written drama that deserves to be seen on its own merits.

“The Beauty, The Banshee & Me runs through October 23rd at the Whitefire Theatre located at 13500 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. For tickets and information visit Plays411.com/Banshee or call (323) 960-1055.  

Note: This review originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on 9/22/16.

Amanda Markowitz film ‘Love Meet Hope’ conquers all

By John K. Adams

“Overall, I most want to inspire other artists to try, keep trying, take chances and not be afraid to make mistakes.”

Strong sentiments from Amanda Markowitz, star, co-creator and producer of Love Meet Hope, winner of Best Dramatic Film at this year’s Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival.

Love Meet Hope is summarized: “A grandfather’s love stories enlighten a jaded man and a moonstruck girl about the realities of love.” Ed Asner, departing from familiar curmudgeonly roles, plays the sweet grandfather, grieving his wife. How great for a film to depict one man’s love stories that resonate to inspire other’s stories.

Markowitz, who co-created the film with Bradley Fowler, shares, “Love Meet Hope inspires and instills hope within each viewer. It is a beautifully unique project with elements of romance, action, drama and comedy all wrapped up to create a compelling work of art.”

Markowitz graduated magna cum laude from USC’s Marshall School of Business, but it was growing up in her parents’ deli, Factor’s Famous Deli in Los Angeles, where she learned “the importance of everyone involved, from the owner to the busboy,” to achieving success.

That ethic of teamwork translated well to the rigors of producing a movie. Amanda says the crew on Love Meet Hope actually had fun while creating this award-winning feature film. Quite a claim, considering movie productions often resemble a military operation.

Markowitz said the toughest things about doing the movie were “wearing multiple hats and learning to delegate. Adaptability becomes second nature. Having a strong team you can trust 100 percent is absolutely essential.”

Love Meet Hope director Bennie Woodell, describes Markowitz as “an asset and a joy to have involved in any production.”

Follow updates on the upcoming release of “Love Meet Hope” on these sites: LoveMeetHope.com, Facebook: Love Meet Hope, Twitter and Instagram: @lovemeethope. Follow Amanda Markowitz at AmandaMarkowitz.com, Facebook: Amanda Markowitz, Twitter and Instagram: @amandamarkowitz.

This interview originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on March 13, 2016.

Actress Lucy Walsh makes film debut in star-studded ‘Mother’s Day’

By John K. Adams

Mother’s Day is an all-star ensemble piece, directed by Garry Marshall. The motion picture follows the interwoven stories of several mothers and their respective children leading up to their annual holiday. It features an all-star cast with Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson and Lucy Walsh.

Walsh makes her film debut in Mother’s Day, but she is no stranger to performance, having toured internationally with her own music with Maroon 5, One Republic, Bruno Mars, Owl City and Ashlee Simpson. The daughter of rocker Joe Walsh, she has also shared the stage with many Nashville greats. She performs her song “Winter Coat” on the soundtrack of Mother’s Day.

“A gift I got from my dad is his great respect for the craft of performance. I would watch him spend days perfecting a six note riff, only to see him toss it off on stage like he just came up with it. It’s powerful to see the work it takes, that work ethic in practice,” she said.

Loving both music and acting, Walsh is now concentrating on the acting piece. Besides Mother’s Day, she also guest stars this season in Criminal Minds and NCIS.

Walsh describes her Mother’s Day role as “the voice of hope for my friend, played by Jason (Sudeikis). My character is sort of this optimistic person, always pushing forward.”

She identifies Gloria Gifford as the acting coach who kick started her career. “You wouldn’t go to the Olympics without a coach, would you? She’s my coach.”

And Walsh names Mother’s Day Director, Garry Marshall as her mentor. “He’s a legend. He saw me in A Comedy of Errors and brought me in. He comes from television, so he works really fast. You stay in the moment. He taught me so much.”

It rained constantly in Atlanta during the Mother’s Day shoot. This was a heady experience for Walsh, who grew up in arid Los Angeles. “I would stand on the balcony and let the wind and rain soak my hotel room while I was just yelling and hooting at the storm.”

Mother’s Day opens in theaters on April 29th. Lucy Walsh’s song “Winter Coat” is available on iTunes.

To learn more about Walsh visit her page on IMDB.com search:  Lucy Walsh.

This interview originally appeared in the Tolucan Times on April 7th, 2016.

Distinctive Differences

Hans was the eccentric old guy at the photo lab, where I worked. He was a technician and good at his job. He came across as a kindly old gentleman with a German accent. He minded his business and didn’t bother anyone.

It seemed like everyone in Minnesota had an accent, German, Scandinavian or the weirdest mix of all, Minnesotan.

One day, while on break, he told me about growing up in Germany before WWII. Then he told me about joining the German army and fighting for the Third Reich in Yugoslavia. Then he told me about how their leader, Adolf Hitler, was misunderstood by the world. Poor old Adolf “did a lot of good things,” he said. With great power comes great forgiveness, as Spiderman says. No, wait.

Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” had been released a few years before. My impression of Hans blended with the hilarious, Nazi playwright from that movie, waxing ecstatic over “what a wonderful dancer” Hitler was. Hans wasn’t so demonstrative but he did insist ‘der Fuhrer’ was misunderstood.

A few years later, on my first day of film school in Tampa, Florida, all the buzz was about one instructor, Karl who was a former Luftwaffe pilot in WWII. All the Jewish students were anxious about taking his classes.

Not to worry, Karl, though as severe in countenance as his reputation would suggest, never betrayed any prejudice against any group or individual. He treated everyone with the same superior disdain in keeping with his perfectionist temperament. Considering the styles of some of the other instructors, Karl was consistent, predictable and a purveyor of solid technical information.

Karl also had a dry sense of humor. At least that is how we chose to see it. A fellow student, Bill, once drew Karl into sharing some personal history with us. He was pressed into the German military service as a young teenager and trained to fly a reconnaissance plane, which were unarmed. He spoke tersely of getting captured when a British squadron of fighter planes came out of the clouds and forced him to land.

Bill asked, “But since your plane could fly higher and faster than theirs, couldn’t you have escaped?” Karl gave Bill a look that would unnerve a hawk and delivered a perfect Teutonic response. “You never retreat.” For years we would quote him with our best approximation of his German accent.

Karl came to the United States when he was released from the POW camp. He never looked back.

Years later, in Los Angeles, I worked for his niece, Karola. When I interviewed with her for the job, hearing her last name, her accent, and seeing those familiar features, I knew she could be no one else’s kin. It was an unusual application of my ‘old school tie’.

In the ‘80s, I edited a ‘sword and sorcery’ flick in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a popular genre then. Before going there, all I knew about Argentina was their ‘open door,’ non-extradition policy that welcomed Nazis escaping prosecution after WWII. Mad Magazine always poked fun at their pompous, latter day fascism.

While visiting the set one day, the studio photographer approached me and introduced himself as Juan Schultz, in a curious, German/Spanish accent. In conspiratorial tones, he told me proudly about his being Hitler’s staff photographer. He claimed he documented Hitler meeting Mussolini, and shaking hands with the Pope. He challenged my disbelief with insistent defensiveness. Alas, photographic proof was lost in his hasty exit from Germany.

He escaped to Argentina and changed his name after the war, like many others, to avoid prosecution. He was well on in years, and it could have been true. A shame about that proof.

I’ll never understand why anyone would brag about that, even if true. It is hardly the stuff one puts on their resume. Or, at least I wouldn’t. But in Buenos Aires, it seemed to open many doors.

People cannot keep dark secrets from the light. The same qualities of character that lead us into dark actions, are those which cause us to proudly broadcast them.

My co-worker Hans was an Al Bundy type, nostalgic for the glory days of that game winning touchdown. How could condemning something so glorious be anything but the result of a misunderstanding?

Karl was not nostalgic. He was no ideologue. As anyone would, he pursued opportunities to forge a new life in his adopted country. But he didn’t trade on his past.

Juan was the oddest one. While successfully escaping responsibility for his participation in infamy, he also made his fortune from those associations. And within the right context, he burnished his reputation from his sordid past.

These three men are familiar types. Not specific to one time or place, they are found throughout humanity. We each find ourselves carried by the currents of history. How we choose to respond to those forces is what is telling.

 

 

2015 Faves and Raves

I cannot believe I have been blogging for over a year now, averaging about three posts per month.

My purpose in blogging is to share examples of storytelling or sharing from my own life, by way of example, for those who might be interested in writing a memoir, or for seeing how they might re-capture old memories to share with interested parties.

Below is a short list of some popular posts you may have missed, and some of my favorites which you might find worth revisiting.

My video memoir company, Storyography: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/no-one-can-stop-time-but-hearing-those-stories-again-slows-it-just-a-little/ , is another way to share stories which captures individual performance as part of the storytelling experience and not merely the words shared.

The biggest hit, which surprised me some, was “Mandatory Moon Bathing in Minnesota”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/he-was-naked-as-a-blooming-orchid/

I’m not sure why that one grabbed so much attention over others. Maybe the title intrigued.

Another relative hit was “The Best Cab Driver in Buenos Aires”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/long-may-he-ride/  which describes some of my experiences while working in that charming city.

Some of my posts are more autobiographical than others. Other posts are more opinion oriented. My favorite of these which didn’t get the attention I thought it deserved was “Greenman Died for Your Niblets”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/to-our-surprise-cheers-and-salutations-greeted-our-approach-to-the-gate-green-man-was-a-star/

Some of my posts amounted to musings about the human condition as viewed through a prism of my own experience. One example of this, which didn’t attract the attention I had hoped was “Swings”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/swings/ ,

or “Taxi Driver Uber Alles”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/each-second-is-a-threshold-to-eternity/ which I thought deserved more attention.

The Territorial Imperative” was about my encounter with a very assertive spider: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/08/22/i-cringed-at-the-memory-of-what-i-yelled-that-night-during-my-desperate-search-what-had-i-wrought/ .

That was a companion piece to the popular “The Company You Keep”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/to-say-this-house-was-infested-is-like-saying-forests-have-trees/ in which I recounted my futile war with cockroaches while in college.

I also published a few practical posts exploring the value of writing a memoir “The Irreplaceable Memoir”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/the-irreplaceable-memoir/

or a distillation of what I presented weekly in a workshop for job seekers on how best to find gainful employment. “The Best Solution to the Problem” was my summary of the workshop: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/the-best-solution-to-the-problem/ .

Godzilla”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/there-is-a-piece-of-godzilla-in-all-of-us/

and “The Show Must Go On” : https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/the-show-must-go-on/ share memories of my career in motion pictures.

My favorites probably fell in my recounting episodes of my life that were fun to write and (I’m told), hilarious to read. “Bad Hair Day”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/i-looked-like-a-psychotic-texas-ranger/ ,

A Knuckle Sandwich and a Side of Steroids Please”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/a-knuckle-sandwich-and-a-side-of-steroids-please/ ,

Sunny Sleepy San Raphael”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/judging-by-her-word-count-the-woman-was-winning-but-we-had-to-acknowledge-he-made-some-very-impressive-points-with-his-rare-interjections/

and “What’s in a Name, Jack”: https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/whats-in-a-name-jack/ are my favorites in that genre.

Much attention has been paid of late, to concussions, due in part to the Will Smith movie of that name. My post “Isn’t this Fun?” https://lifestoryography.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/isnt-this-fun/ deals with my personal experience with a concussion.

At risk of naming all of my posts, I will stop with this brief list of personal highlights. But feel free to revisit some of these and others. They all have something to offer and offer some amusement or a diversion from the tedium of the day.

Please feel free to comment or add to the conversation. I appreciate your input. Thank you for reading.

And you are welcome to visit my Storyography website at: http://www.lifestoryography.com/

See you next year.

 

Godzilla

Remember those silly Godzilla movies that came out of post war Japan? The Godzilla monster was loveably menacing, played by some guy in a rubber suit thrashing around in a cardboard Tokyo. What was not to love?

These movies originated  when the words ‘Made in Japan’ were a joke. Japanese industry was struggling to rebuild from the ravages of war. This was long before it became the industrial colossus it is today.

These movies were the source of numerous jokes about people speaking out of sync. We kids had many laughs trying to talk ‘out of sync’. It was only later that I understood how that happened.

Godzilla movies were always on Saturday morning TV. But I don’t think I ever saw one from beginning to end until I worked on Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla” in 1997. It was a hoot. But it wasn’t a very good movie.

As monstrous as the traditional Japanese Godzilla monsters always were, the audience also loved them. Emmerich’s Godzilla was nasty and unsympathetic. His German sensibilities took a Japanese wood block print and ‘perfected’ it into a relentless killing machine. He took what was in a sense, the spirit of post-war Japan, and transformed it into the spirit of pre-war Germany.

Emmerich missed one of the most attractive themes of the whole franchise, that the audience identifies, for whatever reason, with Godzilla more than with the two-dimensional human characters occasionally populating the landscape.

Then in 1999, I got the chance to work on a Japanese production of “Godzilla 2000”. It was a joy to work on.

Whatever its perceived flaws, it held true to the classic Godzilla movies with cheesy optical effects, out of sync dialogue (which we tried to fix), and a deliciously suitable nemesis monster, Orga. This monster made it even easier to root for Godzilla who becomes the preferred monster, the monster ‘savior’ who saves, but who also must be destroyed.

Godzilla was never as ‘cuddly’ as King Kong but he held the same space in our collective unconscious, that untamable, demanding id, a dark side from which wells our creative energies.

Godzilla was dangerous and destructive, but Godzilla was ‘our monster,’ not some grotesque, shape shifting thing from outer space. He might wreak havoc all he wanted, but Godzilla would be damned if he would share his playground with some interloper.

An added perk to working on this was, I employed my six-year-old daughter, Natalia. For reasons I’ll never understand, she could produce an otherworldly roar out of her pint-sized body. We recorded her demonic vocalizing for use in the movie.

After the recording session, Natalia came out to the lobby where a couple of twenty-something wannabe ‘starlets’ were passing the time. They looked with amusement at my daughter and asked dismissively why she was there.

Natalia stated confidently that she had just recorded growls and roars for the monster. Barely suppressing yawns they said, “Really? Can you roar for us?” My daughter agreed. These girls had no idea what they were in for.

Natalia planted her feet and let out a sustained roar that had these two twerps crawling over the back of the couch and looking for cover. People came out of their offices to ensure everyone was safe. Natalia smiled demurely and accepted their thanks.

I always said Natalia was a force of nature. These two really felt that force. If you ever see “Godzilla 2000,” every sound from Orga, came from my daughter Natalia.

One of my co-editors, Nick has a son whose birthday fell near the date of the movie’s premier. He invited my kids and me to their Godzilla themed birthday party. His wife, Yoko, who is Japanese, made a piñata in the shape of Godzilla for the party.

I looked forward to seeing all the kids at the party tear into the piñata and give Godzilla his just desserts.

Each kid took his turn wailing on it with a broom handle, but no one could make a dent in this monster piñata. It was odd.

Refusing defeat by a candy filled toy, the men at the party each took their turns. Nothing. Nick produced a baseball bat. Nothing we did made a difference. We sat, exhausted and sweating, vanquished by this piñata from hell.

How could this be? Godzilla left us all physically spent while remaining undamaged. No one could make sense out of it. Piñatas are usually made of papier-mâché, and will disintegrate after a few well-placed blows.

But not this Godzilla piñata. This piñata, like its namesake, was indestructible.

On investigation, we found that Yoko, wanting the very best Godzilla piñata, applied generous amounts of duct tape to the inner structure of the shell. A chain saw wouldn’t have taken this piñata out.

Yoko applied an enduring truth in her design of the Godzilla piñata. Even in the movies, Godzilla might be defeated, but he never really dies. Everyone knows you can’t kill Godzilla. He will always return. And he’s not all bad.

As one of the characters notes in “Godzilla 2000”, with mixed emotions of awe and terror, “There is a piece of Godzilla in all of us.”

I hope so.

HealtH?

I miscalculated. The car sped toward me and there was no time.

None.

Tires squealed and metal impacted my flesh…

****

Did you ever want a job so bad you’d die for it? Lots of people want jobs they’d kill for, but die? The film business generates that kind of… passion in some people.

I didn’t want to die for my first Hollywood production job. But I almost did. I was trying too hard.

I was just out of film school. A bunch of us were making do, getting occasional commercial gigs here and there. We’d worked some low budget stuff, but a Hollywood crew with a name director? What a dream!

They were going to be shooting at the classic Don Cesar Hotel on the beach in St. Petersburg, Florida, built in the ‘20s and painted the color of Pepto-Bismal.  The movie was HealtH.

Everyone was trying to find their way onto the crew. There was no way. There had to be a way.

There was a way.

I got on the show and through me, others got on. We watched each other’s backs. We were called Production Assistants. We were grunts.

Shooting a major motion picture is like a combination of a military operation and a three ring circus, with all that implies.

The politics of holding onto a grunt job! The director, Robert Altman, was famously anti-union. The local Teamsters sent him their regards. One of the local union reps ‘generously’ handed out Teamster logo emblazoned t-shirts to all the locals hired by the production. Cool! Free t-shirts!

The next morning ‘Teamsters’ were everywhere. The Altman thought he was being strong armed. Word came down that anyone seen in “one of those shirts” would no longer be on the show.  Those t-shirts disappeared. But the Teamster’s local made its presence known.

Bill, one of my buddies almost got fired one day after drinking lunch with the editors. The editors congregated in the hotel bar for lunch every day. They were a relaxed and friendly bunch, very collegial. These were the rogues who ‘borrowed’ someone’s 50 foot sailboat for an hour or so one night after closing the bar down. They didn’t get caught, but the boat’s owner could have sworn he moored the boat facing out. Curious. So Bill took their invitation and tried to keep up.

Lunch over, our boss detected Bill’s inebriated state, and told him to take the rest of the day off. Bill protested that he was fine. Our boss said he wasn’t fired. He just couldn’t be on the set in that condition. It shook him, thinking he could have been fired. You learn to roll with things.

One afternoon we secured a monstrous set piece in the hotel courtyard, so it wouldn’t fall and kill anyone. It was a tree of sorts, made of styro-foam but weighing about a ton. It consisted of several styro-spheres on stalks, standing almost two stories tall and painted a bilious green. Next to the pink hotel, it was quite memorable.

We anchored steel cable to the roof and ran it down to the ‘tree’ from several locations to stabilize it. Wouldn’t you know, but that night a huge wind storm blew in?

After hours a bunch of us hung out in a meeting room and actor Paul Dooley treated us to a spontaneous demonstration of his amazing sleight of hand. He manipulated a small rubber ball, mysteriously making it disappear and reappear, for several minutes. However, his most amazing trick was creating the illusion of the ball appearing and disappearing, while he was empty handed!

Done for the day, Bill and I were exiting through the lobby of the hotel when the night manager asked if we were with the production. He pointed out the window where we saw the giant ‘tree’ ominously straining against its cables in the gale force winds.

He was genuinely concerned, not only that this looming thing was going to take out a hundred panes of glass but also that innocent guests, or staff, might get injured. I could see his point.

I assured him that I was there when the ‘tree’ was secured and I was certain that it was safe. He asked my name and if he could call me should need arise. I assured him I was with the production company and vouched for the safety of the hotel guests. The night manager took my name and shook my hand in thanks.

Bill and I looked at the ‘tree’ thrashing violently like some nightmarish creature about to break its bonds.

He turned to me. “Are you nuts? How can you be responsible?”

“You think they can make me responsible? That’s what insurance is for. He just needed to know it wasn’t on him. Do you want to hold his hand all night? Chutzpah, my friend. Let’s get out of here.”

We left. The wind subsided and the ‘tree’ stayed put.

One of our tasks was to load a rental truck with props and stuff that had been delivered to the local warehouse and bring it to the location. I was walking to meet the truck when it drove by, honking and proceeding through the intersection without me.

I needed to be on that truck and so made chase. The light changed just before I reached the curb. I made a snap decision that I could make it through before the stationary traffic could get moving.

I ran the red light and discovered the traffic was already in motion and speeding up. I had nowhere to turn as the phalanx of cars bore down on me.

There was no time. The driver slammed on his brakes, but too late. I jumped and rolled onto his hood. He screeched to a stop which threw me off the car. I landed on my feet and I literally hit the ground running. I didn’t look back.

Shaking from the adrenaline rush, I got into the waiting truck. The driver asked if I was okay and all I could say was, “Yeah. Great. Let’s go!”

You just have to roll with things. And have a guardian angel.

http://blog.tvstoreonline.com/2013/08/the-paul-dooley-project-part-2-paul.html 

Our Selfish Genes

Have you ever been faced with a choice between two good things? Everyone should have such problems.

I was pursuing a young lady, the youngest of three sisters. My two older brothers had gone out with her older sisters. It was destiny. We were meant to be together. Why weren’t we?

It was those damned selfish genes.

We went swimming in a local quarry one beautiful summer day. The blue water was warm. Floating on my back and watching the clouds billow against the deep sky inspired me. I felt I was floating amongst those clouds.

She told me she believed one should only do what felt good.

Wow! But something went wrong.

That statement inspired me and my brain went into overdrive. I embarked on an hours long verbal riff examining the fallacy of pleasure as the sole virtue. I became so enamored of my verbal cleverness that I completely missed her cues, oh yeah, the goal of pleasure.

We parted company. She was bored silly and I was still jazzed by the philosophical edifice I was building on the foundation of her absurd proposition. My head was still in the clouds and I missed my chance.

The irony was that I possibly derived more pleasure from my mental gyrations than if I had followed her lead. So, was she right?

Early in my film career I worked on a horror movie on location in Northern Louisiana. The director was from Shreveport and knew every creepy location to use. He took us to shoot in an abandoned Tuberculosis sanatorium. This place had not been used for thirty years or more. (Until recently Tuberculosis was all but eradicated in this country.) The building was huge and built of solid beige brick. Seeing it amidst the overgrowth was akin to discovering a lost city in the jungle. Except for a layer of dust it could have been open for business yesterday.  I almost expected to find a pot of coffee brewing in the break room. As if everyone, even the patients just stepped out. The immense silence was eerie as hell.

The rooms housed iron lungs and other obsolete methods to keep helpless people alive. It was a state of the art facility when it was built in the 1930s or 1940s. They cured everyone. One way or the other everyone left.

Who would want to live if they were stuck in an iron lung, for life? That life could only mean suffering. Who would want that for themselves, or anyone?

It is hard to let go of life. One gets used to it after all. It isn’t just another bad habit.

One of the most curious and horrifying objects to be found in the rooms were glass globes holding about a liter of what appeared to be water (salt water or carbon tetrachloride which turns to a poison gas when exposed to flame). Secured on a shelf, perhaps three to a room, their purpose was not immediately obvious.

Then it dawns that these were supposed to serve as ‘fire grenades’, primitive fire extinguishers. Can you imagine the terror at being confined to a room on fire and having nothing but these to protect you? Of course you would have to await an unselfish nurse to come to your aid and throw them at the fire.

But it’s very expensive to house such hopeless cases.

Wouldn’t it be merciful to put them out of their misery?

Oh, those great souls who promote a compassionate death for the suffering while reckoning how this efficiency will fill their wallets. The words ‘convenient’ and ‘efficient’ have become the most terrifying words in the English language because of some who seek to mask the most inhuman practices with the virtues of time and money saved.

The Nazis were efficient to a fault, rationally legalizing the disposal of the less able, the ill, the elderly, the weak, the ‘sub-human’ Gypsies and… the list goes on. All for their own good and for societies’ convenience. Are these really the virtues we strive to promote in our culture?

Churchill and others said variously, “Society is measured by how it treats its weakest members”.

I read of a study where the subjects were instructed to imagine they were aliens from another planet observing our world. They were to report how to resolve common problems our society faces. The unanimous ‘alien’ stance was that of compassion, patience and caring. All the subjects of the experiment drew on their higher selves to emulate the fictional ‘superior’ alien race.

I submit that there is greater evil than suffering.

Yes we are selfish. Dare we do better?

Confessions of a critic

I was a critic.

I know. You are thinking “Who are you to criticize?” It is a good question; a mite critical but a good one nonetheless. Trust me, I’ve heard it.

This all happened in college. I was really enjoying the superior point of view and doing verbal target practice on unwitting subjects. One of the best lines from my review of a concert by the school orchestra was: “Then came the intermission, which is always good.”

I didn’t start out to be a critic. I wanted to tell stories, to be a writer. As with teachers, I think many critics fulfill the adage “Those who can’t write, write criticism“.

I took a writing course and discovered that the dominant view in the class was that stories were too passé for words. It had all been done after all. My low brow ambitions were dashed on the jagged talus of S-T-Y-L-E.

Style was the rage. So long as you had cartloads of style there might not be a crumb of story in the whole…uhm, story and you could still shine. Once a student, the star of the class read his piece. It was an impressive jumble, devoid of character, plot, or even point of view. A stylish word salad. You should have heard the purring and cooing from the teacher and other students. Boy, was I in the wrong class.

The French author, Alain Robbe-Grillet (even his hyphenated last name was Avant Garde!) was brought in to speak. He was one of the perpetrators of the Nouveau Roman (French for ‘new novel’) characterized by long descriptive passages of inanimate objects and punctuated with no emotional content.

You know, ‘new’.

Take those descriptive passages out and you would barely have enough to fill a tract being handed out on Hollywood Blvd. on Saturday afternoon.

And that tract would be more interesting. Characters? I don’t need no stinking characters!

Did I mention redundancy? Much of the length of his typical novel is made up of repetition of previous descriptive passages (with just the slightest variations to see if you are paying attention). His novel that I read was dominated by the repeated description of a crumpled, blue cigarette pack rising and falling on the swells of the tide breaking against the sea wall at a Mediterranean resort. It was riveting. I think they were Gitanes.

One of the saving graces of his speech was that it was completely in French. I do not know French. He spoke for an hour or so to an uncomprehending audience and finished to resounding applause. Of course there was a translator who kept up with him and she did a good job I am sure. Even translated, what he had to say didn’t make much sense to me. But I’m just a rube from the wind swept steppes of Minnesota.

Before becoming a writer, Monsieur Robbe-Grillet worked as a machinist. He was famous in some circles for writing the screenplay of a movie called “Last Year at Marienbad”. It is a classic of the era, perfectly predicting the unraveling of Western culture that loomed then and by which we are now swamped.

It is a classic tale of a guy in a casino attempting to make time with a woman he may or may not know. (“Haven’t I met you somewhere before?”) She may or may not remember their supposed tryst (“last year…”) or care.

The sheer volume of meaningful glances and pregnant pauses can only be explained by thinking the production company was trying to save money on expensive subtitles.

This cat and mouse game is played out at stupefying length, with innumerable flash backs which may or may not have happened. Need I go on? It is the existential saga of man’s eternal search for… oh, never mind.

What I mean to say is the most stylish description of a cool glass of water will still not quench my thirst. Let’s get real, words is words.

However, I discovered something after the publication of my above mentioned review of the classical concert. What made me lose my taste for writing criticism was not the letters sent to the paper threatening to kill me dare I show my face in the music department.

Stylish pretention notwithstanding, I discovered the limited entertainment value in ridiculing someone else for their honest efforts. A good story needs more than that.

Theremin Dreams

I played the Theremin the other day. This was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Not only is the Theremin a wonderfully mysterious instrument and the source of many eerie Sci-fi movie sound tracks but playing music is something I have struggled with most of my life.

Formal music lessons have eluded me. They are something that many take for granted. My parents encouraged me to take piano lessons. But having witnessed the drama of my brother’s poor results it seemed like I would be signing up for a self-propelled torture machine.

Ironically, when left to myself I would play on the piano making dramatic sounds and arpeggios to create musical rain storms, or this effect or that. But that wasn’t music. Music has rules. There are acceptable forms to follow. One cannot merely play on an instrument; one must learn how to play. I could have been the next Errol Garner had I only stuck with it.

Where I got all these restrictions from I have no idea but you can guess from reading that I missed the rock and roll revolution. By the time Captain Beefheart came out with “Trout Mask Replica” and the liner notes proudly declared none of the band personnel knew how to play instruments, I was a lost cause.

When I was in fourth grade the Middle School band leader, in search of fresh blood, told me I had the perfect hands to play the cello. Little did I know that one needs instruction to play the cello. Lots of people have hands, few play the cello. After several weeks of sitting in rehearsals and getting dirty looks from my mentor because I seemed not to be using my prodigious natural talents to keep up with the other students it occurred to me that perhaps cello was not my instrument. I could carry the cello but I could not carry a tune on it.

I then convinced my Dad to buy me a drum set which we set up in the basement and there it sat gathering dust. It just didn’t sound the same when I played as the drummer did, any drummer did on a record. One huge barrier was I couldn’t stand to hear myself practice.

I signed up for lessons in learning to play the fiddle and after one lesson my teacher moved to Ireland. Was I that bad? Yes.

I got a guitar and painstakingly learned several melodies. Then one day someone asked me about chords. I figured I would get to those other strings once I had the melody down. Chords eluded me. Lead guitarists didn’t need to bother about chords, why should I?

My favorite guitarists were not only the standard favorites. I loved Frank Zappa, Jorma Kaukonen from the Jefferson Airplane and later Hot Tuna, eventually Django Reinhardt. All were amazing. All knew chords.

So the other day I had a chance to play the Theremin for the first time. I really let loose on it. What a blast. The storekeeper, wanting to sell it to me did not discourage me. And the greatest thing about it was no one could say I was playing it wrong. Badly maybe, but not wrong.

And there were no chords to worry about.

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