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Thursday, July 17, 2003
A few kind folks kept emailing me to see how things were going, until my lack or replies (or maybe the content of this blog and what it suggests about my mind) sent them packing.
This former social butterfly is cocooned, awaiting his metamorphosis to a daddypillar. I would wager the current readership of this blog comes in at about 2 regulars and 6 ever-dwindling occasionals. So for these stalwarts, or for the (entirely superfluous) record, or for the sake of simulating a conversation with somebody… anybody… in the outside world, here's what's been going on.
Shelley, after a number of very scary incidents, was placed on strict bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy. Since this has been going on we've had no big incidents, and things seem to be going well. She is still suffering various woes: weakness, nausea, etc, but nothing unusual (all-consuming and depressing, but all within the normal range of possible bummers, all at once), and the kids are well. We saw them on an "anatomy scan" last week. All the specs the doctors check for come up "normal" …which makes this the only time in my life I've thought of that word as anything other than an insult.
Miles Peter Murphy is a rambunctious lad with a certain raffish style and a firm gaze. His interests include spinning in the amniotic fluid like a friggin' Whizzer and ramming against the walls of his room like the cartoon guy in the "Take On Me" video.
Lily Roberta Murphy is a thoughtful lass of rare elegance and sophistication. When not cocking an eyebrow at the antics of her brother, Lily gargles melodiously. Her main complaint about gestating is the lack of reading material.
These may seem to be sexist sketches of the kids, but so far this is how things seem to be. So wife and children are reet and my folks are also in reasonably decent health of late. The urgencies of recent life seem to have quieted down for a bit, so I won't complain about cabin fever. Bored at home all day is better than anxious at the hospital all day. However, one does get a little stir-fried. So… what to yammer about? TV again? What else is there?
**MANDATORY KULTURAL KOMMENTARY **
Just caught a bunch of a new production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" on channel 13. This old warhorse, silly as it is, contains the snappiest work of that clammy little twat, Andrew Lloyd Webber. I devoured the original album when it came out; one of my Holy Name teachers played it in class and it captivated me like nothing else save "The Point" and the Bee Gees. Two friends and I attended a production in London almost ten years later, and I starred in a local production 6 or seven years after that. I now view it as an especially interesting piece of "eternally contemporary" theater, in that the hoary fable it's based on can always be staged in a way suitable to the fads of a given era, thanks to the simple music and nebulous message of the piece. In the early 70s it was imbued with the vibe of the Jesus/Hippie craze, which also brought us "Godspell" and hits like "Spirit in the Sky" and "Oh Happy Day." By the time we got to the West End it had become an exemplar of the burgeoning "pop musical" trend that was to hold sway for 20 years and counting. These are hambone operettas reliant on repetition and melodrama, with lotsa flash, Vegas "class" and over-emotionalism. Public Domain sources for plot are also the norm. This new, televised version seemed to have a strong homoerotic undercurrent, with much "Rent" posing, male groping, pec ("-toral" not "-ker") baring and "American Idol" vocal delivery. Jesus Christ Superstar: a cheese for the ages.
While people do subject Shakespeare and others to constant "updating" and lame-ass point-forcing, it's always goofy despite what the Times says. And it doesn't work at all for Broadway shows. We're used to "Richard III" as nazi (or contra or teddy bear or whatever wrongheaded high concept is underway), but a Broadway confection doesn't and shouldn't have the time-earned solidity to bear such tinkering. We're talking zippy plots, not eternal verities: can you imagine an "Oklahoma!" set in Kosovo? Why would you? It's a topic too large to cover here, but the same principle is at work in "Golden Throat" recordings. We can laugh at Tony Bennett butchering "Eleanor Rigby" because rock music is reliant on "cool" and Tony's version was anything but. However, Tony is a great singer anyway, and we have established a collective affection for him, which allows the episode to seem funny. Now, Rod Stewart butchering "I'll Be Seeing You" is not funny because first of all, he's ruining a truly GREAT song, not some pop artifact beloved (and run into the ground) only by boomers. Secondly, he just plain SUCKS and always has. Liking him in the first place requires a deterioration of aesthetic standards severe enough to preclude any appreciation of the song, the genre, singing or music itself. Such charmlessness can not provoke amusement, only boredom.
Rock fans in general misunderstand other kinds of music almost COMPLETELY. Their views are far more ridiculous than the long-mocked dismissals of rock by people like Mitch Miller and Steve Allen. Those were philistines of a sort, but most rock listeners (and their hiphop or electronica successors) don't even rate a three-syllable epithet. But they are not the only chowderheads about. A similar effect to the Rod-ruins-standards syndrome occurs when, on two recent cds, "jazzmen" or country musicians take on Brian Wilson. The former ply a trade as useful in modern life as that of a candlemaker: a fine trifle for entertaining tourists in resort towns, but t'ain't nothing that really matters (mind you, I mean these biz-jazz dicks with the soft-funk rhythms and shiny 6-note chords that offer as much savor as a ricecake. I'd never, ever put down the noisome Knitting Factory brigade of cat-stranglers, not with my appetite for musicians kicking up a repellent ruckus. They are my kind of jerkoffs). The latter SHOULD embrace the archaic and anachronistic, but insist on sounding "contemporary" …which, in the world of current-day country, means to try and sound like some mid-70s Asylum Records act. An even blander Glenn Frey? Oh man.
How did I wind up on this subject?
Yikes… digressions inside digressions!
***RETURN TO TOPIC***
Anyway, back to "Jesus Christ Superstar." Now, the production I was in represented another kind of "fromage pour tous les âges" …the crummy-but-earnest suburban amateur musical. See "Waiting for Guffman" if that world is unknown to you. My buddy Pat Redding dared me to audition, knowing that I'd always wanted to act onstage but feared my own incompetence. Turns out I was right, but what the hell. I got the lead based on my singing voice and perhaps my long hair (at that time I was also pretty skinny). My dance audition was ludicrous, but the director had ideas for the Jesus role which - thank Thalia -n- Tepsichore - didn't include a dancing messiah. Pat landed the part of Judas, a much cooler role, well-suited to Pat's Burt Lancaster presence. I was persuaded to lighten up on the smokes for the duration of the show, and was tutored in vocal support and proper breathing. I soon forgot these techniques, but trust me: for those shows my voice sounded as good as it ever would. From the evidence of videotape, however, my acting and physical grace started out woeful and plummeted to the infinite depths of "yee-owch" from that point onward. By now I'm a sort of latter-day Larry "Bud" Melman, minus the popular appeal.
In those days I lived with a scold of a pill of a shrew named Sandy, who gradually taught me just how monolithic hatred can become. Apart from carping endlessly about my participation in the show (methinks she wanted me to spend that time working a THIRD job so we could move to a nicer slum as she attended grad school… Lesson: fuck the work ethic; it is always a tool for achieving someone else's happiness), this bundle of joy shouted "Turn it down… I have to get up early tomorrow!" from the bedroom as Jim, Willy and I listened to our very first record for the very first time. Each JCS rehearsal was a blessed excuse to get away from her, resulting in cherished memories of a drunken Judas, an inebriated Jesus and several blotto apostles tearing off many a ripe chunk of night and chewing it down to a pulp. These were some of the happiest times of my life. Along with my nightly carousing with the beloved Redding lads and company, one post-performance binge with Peter and LaGrutta down at Lake Ronkonkoma will remain one of the treasured jewels of memory. Lesson: It ain't the big event, it's the incidentals, so turn away from the spectacle and enjoy the boon company while you can. Your favorite people leave the soonest.
(Eventually, of course, I got out of that relationship and formed a band called the Skels. This doomed, musically dubious escapade was in effect a dating service for dweebs. It brought me Shelley, so that's reason enough. Pete met and married his own scold of a pill of a shrew, named R*gan Gr*ce. He died just as he was developing the clarity to leave her and - one assumes - find his own equivalent of my Shelley, in whose love and goodness I find a counterweight to the bitterness I reveal so uncomfortably and regularly here. Anyway, as the wealthy fire widow wallows in an obscene delusion of status bought and paid for by Pete's blood and his mother's tears, I celebrate one night spent under the stars, sucking stogies and cheap beer with these best buddies. I was still dressed as Jesus the C and LaGrutta was just beginning to perfect his Tony Soprano persona. Pete still loved me. Hours of easy laughter beyond any estimate of worth. Paul is now wedded to Julia, who's a complete delight.)
**FROM CRINGE-WORTHY TO QUEASY-MAKING**
One of the odder sidelights of doing that show was a sexual proposition I got from a couple. They were true "Jesus Freaks" in the Bernie Taupin "Tiny Dancer" sense AND the Rick James "Super Freak" sense, and wanted me - in full King of Kings drag - to introduce my loaf to her fishbasket as he watched in reverent awe, presumably rubbin' his rosary. Some "Prince of Piece" I turned out to be… I declined. Lesson: when stuck with a less-than-tolerable partner, don't miss a single opportunity to engage in deviant sex with others. Your future story will be a far better tell, and you'll feel vindicated anyway once your mismatch collapses. Seriously, there's no way I could have done it.
**BRUTAL SELF-ASSESSMENT #3306 (yawn)**
Reflecting on that performance (me as JC, not my non-performance with Jim and Tammy Boinker), I acknowledge that mine is a talent eminently suited for local bar bands and local musicals. Painful as it is to admit, my awkward, idiosyncratic "gift" is unfit for the big time. Many have learned this for themselves early enough to move on to productive lives including weekend hobby artiste-hood. Not me. Lesson: ah, nothing useful. I should have enjoyed these things more while I could, without the anxieties of wanting to do something "real" that led to my regrettable career. Ah jeez. Every stream of thought flows toward that same sewer. Can't unbreak that shattered snowglobe, so let's play a tender lament and quickly bail.
One disturbing aspect of the new, televised JCS was the way the black-trench-coat-and-hat chorus/crowds, who initially seemed like a fashion designer's idea of "noir" extras, became silhouettes of apparent Hassidim later in the show, taunting Pontius Pilate to crucify the bastard. It was so blatant I was stunned. Again, though, this Jew-hatred is right in line with the times we live in.
**RUDY GIULIANI SEZ: **
"President Bush has asked me to head the United States delegation to a conference on combating anti-Semitism, held by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which begins tomorrow in Vienna. The meeting is a direct response to the worldwide surge in anti-Semitic violence. Last spring, physical attacks against Jews in France were occurring at a rate of 8 to 12 a day, with 14 arson attacks on synagogues in a two-week period. In Russia, signs reading 'Death to Jews' were placed along highways and rigged to explode if anyone sought to remove them."
Look at the countries named in Rudy's commentary on European anti-Semitism (which is really Jew-hatred): Russia and France. Add Germany, which is to Jew-hatred what Hershey Pennsylvania is to chocolate-themed amusement parks. These three stooges (Moeski, Lareé and Schëmpf) were exactly the international vanguard of the "USA stay out of Iraq" movement. Hmmmmm. Not that I am waving the banner for Bush's war: I supported the objective (in large part) but mistrusted the mission (in large part). I still can't make head nor tail of the thing.
I do believe that Vietnam was a debacle of astonishing proportions, and that pricks like MacNamara sent American kids to the slaughter for years of pointless engagement in a war we didn't have the will to win. I also believe that the "larger" war to contain (and then eradicate) Communism was critical and ultimately successful. I don't expect this war against fundamentalist Islamic terrorism to be neat and tidy, and I don't expect businessmen of this (or any) administration's "ethical standard" to restrict all military action to that specific end.
I expect lies, manipulations and fuckups, just as I expect to see, after a disgusting election campaign, a complete clown either elected or re-elected. But I hope this country is still standing and fairly secure when Miles and Lily are old enough to have to contend with it all, and I don't think the Left has any credible plan toward securing that goal. Neither does the Right, but they are less hesitant to kill motherfuckers, and all that motherfuckers understand is death, sorry to say. I fear another morass of "Hawk vs. Dove" nonsense like the one we had 3 decades ago, and anyone siding with the Jew-haters of Europe (and the America-haters of Europe and the Middle East) is as foolish (to use a kind word) as the Jane Fonda types of that era. Conversely, anyone condemning a sincere call from American citizens for accountability on the part of their government is no better than the cartoonish "America: love it or leave it" bozos of that era.
This means I can't reasonably make THIS or THAT statements as if I'm absolutely sure of the truth.
What an embezzle! What a ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay! My political opinions are idiotic, for sure.
But I don't cotton to all the Jew-hating, and I'm not wrong about that.
**BACK ON TOPIC**
I only did one other show, years after JCS. This was a local production of Eric Bogosian's turdball, "Suburbia." I played "Pony," a rock star visiting his old neighborhood and gloating to his ne'er do well pals, who are still idling around the 7-11 store. The irony is, of course, agonizing. I again sucked as an actor, but something about the experience led me to get back on the horse musically, and so I made an album called "Willoughby," which led to all my further success. It's all in God's plan, friends.
While my acting in "Suburbia" bit significant ass, at least I didn't commit any blunders comparable to those in JCS. These included:
*Showing up late for the Last Supper, which opens act 2. The apostles had to vamp on the opening number for several minutes while Judas ran to find me in the dressing room, shooting the shit with a Roman soldier.
*Running out onstage to take my bow on opening night, forgetting that the cross was standing there and I ought to duck. I slammed my head against the thing and stumbled to the very edge of the stage, where I shrugged a goofy shrug as stars circled my skull.
*Completely blanking on my big solo number "I Only Want to Say…" as the orchestra conductor looked up at my terror-stricken face and mouthed out the correct lyric. I eventually regrouped, but it was too late to save the number.
At the cast party, I pissed in a grotto. Ave.
Then returned to cohabitational hell with the awful girlfriend.
As our relationship crumbled completely, she refused, at the last minute, to attend Pat Redding's wedding up in Connecticut. So I missed it, immediately ruining several fine friendships.
Boy, do I miss hanging out with Pat and Rob and Becker. And Pete and Paul.
**FAMOUS LAST WORDS**
Anyway, as I was up on the cross every performance, sucking in the faint beginnings of this gut that I now wear like a parade drum, I'd breathe deep the smoke machine smoke and ponder my few remaining lines. What - if any - similarity do the official, biblical "last words of dyin' Jesus" bear to those in the JCS libretto? Pull up a chair, pilgrim!
MATTHEW: "My God, my God: why hast Thou forsaken me?"
TIM RICE: "Why have you forgotten me?"
Here the Good Book shows more huevos than the "book." "Forsaken" seems to imply intention: "What the hell is this about, pop?" "fuck you, O my son!" A son forsook. Forsooth!
Rice is giving God the Father an out: "Yoo hoo! Dad? Remember me? Hanging here? BLEEDING? Ring a bell?" Dad might be napping… or busy with clients.
MARK agrees with Matthew on this quote, and they both go on to state that Jesus "cried out in a loud voice and gave up the ghost." This sounds, perhaps, like a southern colloquialism but it's King James all the way. The original Aramaic (as we'll hear in Mel Gibson's new version of the Passion) reads: "Jesu gave out with a yelp and then just flat-out exfluncted right up on that there contraption them Eye-talians built."
LUKE adds the famous: "father, forgive them; for they know not what they do"
RICE uses this one verbatim. A good move, that. This is one time a paraphrase might fall flat. "Father, let 'em slide for this one" wouldn't convey the appropriate drama, and "Ouch! Yeeeooow! That smarts! Hey… c'mon… you wanna watch it with the lance already!?" would be pushing the vernacular / humanizing approach too far.
LUKE goes on to include Jesus' comment to the "good thief," crucified beside him: "Verily I say unto thee, today thou shalt be with me in paradise." Because the little brown-nose stood up for him after the "bad thief" quite understandably said: "Hey, if you're God, how's about you get us all out of this fix?" …for which he was probably damned to eternal flame. The other guy managed to GROVEL while nailed to a fucking CRUCIFIX! And for this he gets entry into the kingdom of Heaven. Apple for the teacher. Man!
RICE omits this episode entirely, showing a lone Jesus… a Shane of Golgotha… promising nuttin' to nobody. In ignoring this incident, Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber missed the chance for a great 3-part number: "I got the cross right here…" Add the Romans and disciples and you could really work up a fancy-schmantzty piece of business like the Quintet in "West Side Story."
LUKE agrees with Mark and Matt that JC cried with a loud voice, but quotes the actual cry as: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
RICE uses this as well, substituting "your" for "thy," a point too minor to even mock.
JOHN gives us: "Woman, behold thy son!" spoken to the Virgin Mary, and then adds: "Behold thy mother!" spoken to an unspecified disciple. The first line may be interpreted as whining, which I'm glad to see the Son of Man as guilty of as I am (I mean, that display in the garden of Gethsemane… what the fuck was THAT?). The second is a command to his disciple to take care of mother Mary in his absence. This McCartney-esque parental concern is admirable. For once Jesus impresses me as a decent fellow. A little late: "Oh, NOW you think of your mother, Mister Instigator! Mister Martyr!"
RICE has this as: "Who is my mother? Where is my mother." I'm stumped on this one. Is Rice presenting a savior as lost and bewildered as an unimprinted baby duck? That would figure. In the Last Supper, he makes Jesus sing: "for all you care, this wine could be my blood." Talk about whining! According to Tim Rice, the point of the central ceremony in the Christian Mass is "you guys don't give a shit about me at all." If that's all it takes, then where's my halo?
JOHN: "It is finished"
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