Friday, July 26, 2013

Thanks, Metafilter and Reddit

I've been reading Metafilter since 2000. I love Metafilter. Imagine my joy when I visited there (as I do most every day) and found a post about the Sadistic Couplets. "This is exactly what I want to read about!" I thought, "This is why I love Metafilter!"
The post said that a Georgian was writing about the Couplets. I figured he or she would have an interesting perspective on them. The country of Georgia's bred all kinds of compelling folks, like Joseph Stalin, and Kokkai Futoshi. A Georgian might be uniquely qualified to comment on why the Couplets matter, and what they mean.
should have read the post more carefully, because until I clicked the link I forgot that I am also a Georgian.
This blog is old, and some of the content is no longer accurate. It's been dormant since 2010, and a lot has changed since then. I really didn't expect to get any visitors. But on the day the link was posted on metafilter, and then on reddit, as many people visited my blog as attended the Poison/Ratt reunion concert in Charlotte, NC. I am feeling pretty giddy with success right now, as you can imagine.
I thought I'd add a new post to thank folks for visiting. If you're bored with strange things in Moscow and want to read about strange things in the town I live in now, here's WTH? Athens.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

NYC #2: Damndest thing I ever seen

You'd think meeting Wyatt would've been excitement enough for one night, right? Oh no.

I said my goodbyes to the extremely friendly Jon Stewart people and walked 9 or so blocks through the remains of the recent blizzard up to Julliard. So now, what are we doing at Julliard, again?

For readers who don't know, I am married to this guy named Jim White. He is a critically acclaimed musician whom I've been a fan of since his first album came out in 1997, though I didn't actually meet him (at a show at the Echo Lounge) until 2003. Jim is sort of a renaissance fellow; when he's not working on albums he's involved with a variety of interesting side projects. One of these side projects was scoring the senior student production at the Julliard Theater School.

Everybody knows that "Julliard" = "wow" when it comes to music. But I didn't know until Jim got involved with this crew that the 15-18 students accepted into the theater school each year (out of 2000 annual applicants) are some of the most talented actors in America. What I DID know was that for the past 8 months Jim and these Julliard people had been working their butts off to create something extraordinary.

The show was an adaptation of Sam Shepard's "Paris Texas" and the "Motel Chronicles" interspersed with stories the young students had written about their families. In between the stories, the students would sing songs arranged by Jim and Dan Nettles, his very talented colleague. Some of the songs had lyrics written by Stephanie, the dramaturg; some were re-arrangements of songs Jim wrote in the past.

For those of you not familiar with Jim's work, the above sentence probably carries no emotional weight one way or the other. People who DO know his music, though, are probably struggling as much as I did to reconcile these two wildly disparate ideas. For "musical theater" is never, ever the first thing that pops into one's head when thinking about Jim's music. Maybe an old falling-down MOVIE theater on some forsaken corner in the abandoned downtown of a Mississippi hamlet that has seen better days but is now known mainly for its startlingly high rates of birth defects due to the huge number of basement meth labs that began springing up once the local lumber mill shut down; yeah, I could see Jim's music overlaying a scene like this (and you can, too).

But a THEATER production? Jim? It'd be like hearing that Tom Waits had been chosen to play the lead in the upcoming Ethel Merman biopic. Does. Not. Compute. Nonetheless, I reserved judgment. Jim is a talented person working with other talented people. Perhaps they'd take these incongruous ingredients and whip up something tasty after all.

And wouldn't you know, we settled into the back row of the sold-out theater on the show's opening night, and it was amazing. 18 students singing "Combing My Hair in A Brand-New Style," and "Ghost Town of My Brain" while performing a choppy, angular, rhythmic dance that completely suited the off-kilter lyrics -- I'm telling you, if the show had stopped right then I would have said it was one of the damndest things I'd ever seen.

But it didn't stop right then. It kept going for 2 more hours. These people, these kids, were WORKING. They were in constant motion; when they weren't talking or singing or dancing they were running around setting up, disassembling, or toting around the sets and the multimedia that held the whole show together. This production was fairly experimental; there was no clear plot or narrative per se. It was more like a mood that was created that built on itself as the show went on, and the sparse set and dramatic lighting were instrumental in creating this mood.

The lighting, in fact, was such a critical part of the show that it was almost another cast member or character. The show used something I'd never before seen and used it to great affect: a long series of milky glass panels that lit up in different ways according to a complex series of cues. Each individual panel was about 5 feet long and 3 feet wide, and there must have been about 10 of them attached to each other. This 50-foot long rectangle of glass was attached to the ceiling by cables, and the whole thing could be raised or lowered depending on the mood the director wanted. The glass face could point down, so it was shining on the actors like overhead florescent lighting, or it could face out, so that the audience of parents and grandparents (this was the class' thesis show, after all, and the opening night) and theater people could see the sequence of colors and flashes.

It was really something to see, and really added to the production. And so, when at the beginning of act 4, the cables holding the fixture aloft suddenly snapped and the whole 2000-pound, 50-foot-long, dangerous glass contraption crashed to the stage below and exploded like a fishbowl knocked off of an end table, everyone was absolutely, completely aghast.

Act three had just ended, and the 18 (EIGHTEEN, do you understand how many people that is) actors distributed themselves around the stage and froze, waiting for the next act to start. A slide was projected onto the back wall, interstitial music was playing, and the big rectangle of lighted panels was being raised to the very top of the ceiling 20 feet above. It had almost made it when the cables snapped and the lights crashed to the floor. It made a sound that was unbelievably loud and also oddly satisfying -- like the sound a crystal chandelier would make if someone threw it out of a helicopter. It echoed in the absolutely silent theater as we all prepared ourselves to see which of the students we'd been watching for the past 2 & 1/2 hours had been killed, and which had been spared.

Remarkably, unbelievably (and I still have no explanation for this) not a single person on the stage was hit or even hurt very badly. One person had to be walked off by two other students when she was hit by flying glass. But there was not a single other injury. It was, without a doubt, the damdest thing I've ever seen. I still have not completely processed it.

And what a tragedy! Obviously, it would have been way more tragic if someone had been hurt or killed, but still. All that work, all that labor. Those poor kids. Poor Brian, the director. Damn.

We all sat there in total silence for a very, very long time, until finally Brian sort of stumbled on stage, spread his arms out forlornly, and said "We can't continue after this. Everyone go home." We all leapt up and began clapping frantically, trying to communicate all our shock and relief and gratitude and amazement. Then, we all went home.

Tune in tomorrow for NYC #3. Boy, this was a busy 2 days. No wonder I'm sick.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

NYC #1: My story is better than your story

I went to NYC this past Thursday to see the Julliard play my Southern Gothic HusbandTM wrote the music for (more on this in NYC #2).

We stayed in a very swanky-do Philip Stark joint called the Hudson, right over by Lincoln Center. All I can say about the hotel is:

1. It's very dark. I have never been in a darker hotel, as a matter of fact.
2. The housekeeping staff is possibly the friendliest I have ever encountered.
3. While looking for a place to pee one night at 3am when we were locked out of our room, I staggered into the supply room (which should have been locked) and drunkenly stole about $600 worth of shampoo samples. I am not sorry.

The first evening I was there, Jim had to go over to Julliard to finish up the final preparations for that night's show, which was the opening night.

I had about an hour to kill before I had to show up for the performance so I went down to the bar and ordered a glass of red wine. The bar was fairly crowded; most all the one- and two-seat "conversation areas" were filled. So I sat with my wine in a wing-tip leather chair that was part of a larger group of seating: a big leather couch, a couple more chairs, etc., etc. I wasn't planning on being there long, just long enough to drink one glass of wine. I took out my notebook and started revising Potemkin.

I'd been there for about 10 minutes when a group of about 9 young people (mid-late twenties) walked over to me. They were headed by a woman who worked at the bar, and they all looked me over sort of beseechingly, but without saying anything. It was clear this was the only place for this big group to sit, yet because I was perched there it made the whole area sort of off limits; my territory.

"Here, here," I said, standing up and pointing to my nearly empty glass of wine, "I'm fixin' to leave. Y'all can sit here."

"No! No!" shouted the group of people, "We can't do that! Stay! Stay! You MUST join us!"

The last thing I ever want to do is make small-talk with a big group of strangers, and so I started standing up and saying "no really, I'll move." One of the guys in the group, though, looked at me really sincerely and said "Please. We're sick of each other. We want you to entertain us! Tell us ALL about yourself!"

Hmmm, well. It just so happened that I DID actually have something interesting to tell that night, so I relented and sat back down. The person directly to my left was a very nice-looking man wearing a sharp suit and tie. He was way more dressed up than the others he was with, and I found this curious. He looked at me very seriously and said, "So, Robin, tell us about yourself. What are you doing here?"

"Well, I'm going to Julliard."

"Oh! Your parents must be very proud!"

I laughed and explained to him that my husband Jim was writing the music for this play that the Julliard folks were putting on, and (in response to the man's further questions) that he was an alt-country musician whom I'd met at a show in Atlanta, and had a movie out, and how we'd once sung a song together on Flannery O'Connor's front porch. I felt very happy and excited that I had a good and worthwhile story to tell these folks. Though I wasn't really thinking of it as a competition, it's still nice to think, ha, I'm giving these people something to talk about. I'm always grateful when someone does this for me.

So then I asked the man, whose name was Wyatt, "What are you doing here?"

"We're filming a segment for TV," he said.

This did not impress me. People film TV stuff all the time, even in Athens, GA. They could be making an infomercial for the Ronco Pocket Nose Picker, or a commercial for Strong-Arm Vinnie's Accident and Injury Practice and Deli. We talked for a second about the logistics of filming for TV, and then I asked him, "What TV show are you filming for?"

"The Jon Stewart show," he said. "We're doing a segment on evil bankers and credit-card companies, and we're interviewing a whistle-blower for Bank of America in this hotel's bistro."

"Hang on just a second." I leaned over and began rifling through my large bag, searching for the flip charts, PowerPoint slides, and bell-curve graphs I carry around with me everywhere in order to be able to, at a moment's notice, deliver a concise yet exhaustive presentation about why our entire economy is just about to completely collapse.

We ended up having a lengthy conversation about, well, how our entire economy is just about to completely collapse. I encourage everyone to watch this segment; it's going to be on Monday, Feb 22. As usual, Jon Stewart is one of the only, ahem, journalists, who sees and says what's going on. The fact that his staff had every reason to be all snooty and "yeah, we're on the Jon Stewart show" but instead was as friendly and outgoing as Mary Kay recruiters at the Kroger's just confirms my suspicions that Stewart is a worthy hero.

If only I'd met Wyatt AFTER the first Julliard show, I'd have had a MUCH more interesting story to tell him. I'll have to settle for telling it to you, tomorrow.

Inadvertent Criminals

Do any of you know any people who set out to do something enterprising, with the best of intentions, and ended up breaking the law? For instance, 5-year-olds who want to have a lemonade stand but end up falling afoul of zoning regulations?

If you do, could you email me at robintraining at yahoo dot com? Thanks much.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Demon Sheep in Loafers

This is one of the most hilarious things I’ve seen in a while. It’s an ad by Carly Fiorina (you may remember her as the CEO of HP; that’s right, the one who nearly ran the company into the ground), who is planning to run for Republican gov of California. It’s an ad attacking another Republican contender, Tom Campbell.

There are so many things wrong with this video that I can’t even begin to enumerate them. OK, I can.*

1. Is she calling fiscal conservatives sheep?
2. What other way to fall besides down is there?
3. Why is that sheep wearing loafers?
4. Does she not realize that FCINO is perilously close to Fiorina? (this kind of subtlety matters in advertising, I’m told)
5. Is the narrator, with his over-the-top “Hi, I’m a narrator” voice, really serious? Or is he just poking fun at the project he somehow got sucked into in a desperate attempt to appear snarky and ironic and thus salvage his credibility?

All of these questions just add to the mystery. What is known is that Republican “insiders” are calling this video a “meltdown” for Fiorina, and that Campbell, her opponent, is sending the video out as part of his campaign materials to demonstrate once and for all that Fiorina is on the Express Train to Crazy Town.

I’m looking for a seminar or retreat or something where they help you tell the difference between satire and reality, because it’s getting harder and harder to tell.

*I'm not the only one who has these very same questions. They're very obvious if you watch the video -- so much so that even the commenters on YouTube (usually a haven for slack-jawed, hairy-backed mouth-breathers) are asking them. My beloved Metafilter also has a funny comment thread on this video, where you can learn more about Fiorina's tenure at Hewlett-Packard, the fallout from this video, and California politics in general.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Farmer Jason Likes My Chicken Tractor

In another sign from the universe that I am indisputably blessed and am exactly where I'm supposed to be, Farmer Jason showed up at my house yesterday.

Those of you who don't have young kids may still know Farmer Jason if you're lucky enough to know who Jason and the Scorchers are; namely, the shreddingist motherlovin' what-would-happen-if-you-put-Hank-Williams-and-Iggy-Pop-in-a-blender-with-a-half-cup-of-nitroglycerine-and-a-heapin'-spoonful-a-kick-ass band EVER. Well, one of them. I saw them in 1985 or 6 at UNF in Jax and my ears are STILL RINGING. Whoo!

And what a treat to realize that Jason Ringenberg is as nice as he is talented. After my 3-year-old stopped staring at him in stunned, star-struck silence, he sang her not one but two songs AND complimented her on her monkey blanket! Thank you for giving my kid one of the most awesome experiences of her young life, Farmer Jason. You are the best.





Friday, January 29, 2010

"Wind-Up" Winds Up

Congrats to my friend Stephen Earnhart on the debut of his theater adaptation of Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Stephen is one of the funniest people I know; unassuming-looking with sticky-up strawberry-blonde hair, just some guy from Indiana. But he creates amazingly creative things, and his dogged pursuit of his ideas and persistence in seeing them realized has always inspired me. Here's to you, Stephen. I'm so glad you finished the play and that the opening was a sold-out success.


Also, happy birthday, Chekhov. And RIP JD.