Category Archives: Shows

I Did a Thing

I was a last-minute substitution to the 20 x 2 show last night in Chicago, where 20 of us took two minutes to answer the questions: What Are You Waiting For?

It was fun and the other performers were an interesting assortment of talent and ideas. A couple of them were even friends of mine! The front row of the audience was super-enthusiastic, too.

I am very glad to have been included.

I have my notes of where I went wrong (surprising how much peril lurks in 2:15–I ran slightly long), but mostly, I very much enjoyed the chance to do a thing of the sort I have not done since college. Not just to do my own little bit but also to mingle with others doing their bit and spend some time around the Let’s Put on a Show vibe that I enjoyed before law school.

I have a lovely circle of friends and a great social network here but–well, I have more thoughts to tweeze out here about a community of being and supporting versus a community of doing and facilitating. Thoughts I did not realize I was having. I am about to spend some time at the beach with not much to do, perhaps the thoughts will come together.

In the meantime, this is what I said in response to the 20×2 question: “What Are You Waiting For?”:

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I am never relaxed.  Comfortable? Possibly. Confident? Where appropriate. Calm? As necessary. But I Never Not Ever Relax.

So you might guess that I’m waiting for the blow. Bracing for impact. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. The Catch. The Hitch. The Gotcha.

Except I’m not. I not waiting at all. For anything.

Because there is no need. There’s no next. No resolution. No finale. No Bang. No whisper.

Just each moment. Just each action. Each thought. And then the next. Then the next. The next and the next. And the none at all. So you might say that I’m waiting for nothing.

Which is not to say I’m waiting for death. Just that I’m not—so far as I know—waiting for anything.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not enlightenment. No carpe diem moment of zen. I put plenty of things off. And I have no more patience than your average middle-aged public interest attorney working in an unjust world.

But waiting? For what? For change? For justice? For the world to catch up with itself? I think not. I’ll wait for the elevator. I’ll wait for the toaster. (I’ll wait for the bus) But I’ve learned not to wait for humanity—I’m already anxious enough.

You see, change happens after you work for it your whole life. So you musn’t wait for it. To wait for it is to drive yourself mad. It torments your hope. Betrays your belief and hobbles you.

I don’t wait. And I never relax.

But in this I find belief in the value of each moment which follows each thought without ever actually displaying this Good we’re waiting for.

Just laying it down. In thin imperceptible layers of progress. Each of us. Each moment. One thought at a time.

 

Living in the Future

ZoeKeatingTwitterPicI went to Zoe Keating‘s show at the Old Town School of Folk Music last night. She is a charming performer, for one thing; for another, I find the cello such an evocative beautiful instrument. It was a wonderful show. I’ve not been to the OTSFM theatre before and it’s lovely.

Keating performs alone on her cello–sampling, looping and mixing it live. It’s Keating, her cello, a couple looping pedals and her little table computer. But when I got home, I realized something interesting: at no point during the performance did I think “wow, that technology is amazing.” The technology is so pervasive and second-nature now that if the music were not really good, I would not be impressed or engaged, unlike 30 years ago when the mere fact that it was happening at all would have been enough to draw me in.

Laurie Anderson, for instance, is an amazing technology musician. I saw her perform in the early 90’s and the while the songs and stories in and of themselves would have drawn me in and kept me engaged, it was impossible in the 90’s not to find yourself noticing and considering how is she doing that live and in front of us? There was a sense of magic show to music that could not be made without serious technology being performed live back then which is gone.

I don’t miss it, honestly.

Although Keating’s performance on Sunday was sadly short, I am very glad I made it to the show. Her music is incredibly rich and emotional; the performer is engaging; and now, the necessary computers, gadgets and futuristic woo necessary to complete that sort of layered, looped, sampled music no longer even registers in live performance, so you can just listen and be moved.

Wow, the future. So much of the world is still frustrating and relentlessly backward, but some of what we’ve managed to do with ourselves is amazing.

Movies

I watched Europa Report last night and realized why I watch so few movies now. Europa Report was actually quite good, but all the things that made it good left me thinking why I never see movies anymore.

I had never heard of it and the Netflix browsing tells you absolutely nothing you might want to know about a title. So I picked it, essentially, at random. It was late afternoon; I had stayed out too late on New Year’s eve and figured a space movie was just about the right speed. I fully expected to get bored and fall asleep or annoyed and shut it off.

Instead, I got completely engaged and found myself wondering why there are not more movies that tell interesting stories without resorting to explosions, car chases or will-they-won’t-they plots.

Europa Report was quiet. It had long scenes, few jump cuts, no sexual tension nor any romance, no half-naked women, no gore. Rather than try to dazzle and distract, it presented the story, giving you time to think about why the characters did what they did.

Io9 calls it “the most painstakingly accurate space movie [they]’ve seen in ages“–which I wouldn’t know–but I appreciated that it was a space movie that focused on space. The look on the face of the really pretty Russian astronaut220px-Europa_Report_Official_Poster when she finds herself on Jupiter’s moon is amazing. It’s what the whole movie is about.

It’s just a story. Not the most original story ever (Sure, there’s a space menace. And, of course, there are technical crises. There are the noble sacrifices, clever fixes), but a story which is allowed to rest on itself. If it were a book, I’d keep reading–I can’t say that about the lest several movies I’ve watched.

I want to be engaged when I’m entertained which requires more than flashing lights and pretty people in tight clothes. This movie accomplished that and it was very striking to me that it had been a long while since I felt that way about a movie.

Looking Forward

Dessa, via her MySpace page

Dessa, via her MySpace page

We have tickets to see Dessa at Schubas tomorrow and I am very excited. Schubas is small and Dessa is one of the most exciting artist’s I’ve come across in a while.

At some point in my mid-20’s, I realized my own creative efforts would always be small. Stories I told my friends, pictures I printed for my own walls, quilts I made for family. That’s fine. I enjoy them and there is less pressure to develop the meticulous, perfectionist streak necessary to truly finish a project. Nonetheless, every so often, something comes along that makes me wish I were that good, wish I were that committed to trying, that capable of expression. Badly Broken Code punched that button for me. So I’m thrilled to be able to see her do her work, in a small room, coming off several weeks of me running around crazy and facing several months of serious stress.

We had dinner the other night with a friend, who is a professional performer to the extent that she does it with professional commitment, professional skill and consistently. But she has a day job. She told an anecdote about William Shatner, crediting Patrick Stewart with teaching him gratitude for what Star Trek gave him in life. And we talked briefly about whether all performance was to some degree play. We talked about what it meant to love your work and whether play is necessary to that.

I love my job. I really do. I enjoy reading academic papers about the relative merits of differing means of selecting judges. I would happily read studies of whether or not criminal justice reform acknowledges failure enough for its own good as a recreational activity in my spare time. But it’s not playful. It’s not precisely fun.

I am lucky that the thing I do all day every day is enjoyable to me because it is still work, and I am still tired, with no energy or time, really, to do other things at the end of my job most days. It’s also nice to have friends who remind you what that means.

Diamanda Galas at the MCA

Last night, I saw Diamanda Galas perform at the MCA Chicago, the first of two sold-out solo performances of works from various points in her career; “Were You There When They Cruxified My Lord?”. It’s the third time I’ve managed to make it to one of her shows.

The first was in Austin, in the early 90’s. The Plague Mass, I think. Maybe not. Was it Vena Cava? Likely it was neither, but simply a performance of her work. I know we saw Galas in Austin in 1991, 1992 or 1993. And I know that I walked out of the theatre when it was over, quivering, suddenly aware there was a great deal about suffering and rage—and even more about art—than all my worldly undergraduate reading, writing and earnest interest had found. So even if I can’t give you details about which pieces she performed, I can close my eyes and remember the sight of her, coiled and taut,

Only a few years later, I saw her perform The Sporting Life in Chicago (as I recall, the Vic, but memory is a hazy thing). After the lights came up, I was hanging around the edge of the stage—my date nowhere to be seen—and the man next to me asked, in an incredulous, awed tone, “Who was that?” I answered, equally incredulous, “Do you mean Diamanda Galas?” Yes, he said. He said he’d seen John Paul Jones’ name on the marquee walking past the other week and couldn’t pass up the ticket. “Oh,” I said, “the guitarist. . . . great show, huh?” “Man, that was something else,” he answered.

And Thursday night, I saw her again. It’s astounding that her voice, while clearly older, is not diminished. For the first two songs, I was vibrating. By the end of the night, I swear, she had a blown a speaker with on her voice and the piano. She performed (Not in this order): O Death, Birds of Death, Let My People Go, Let’s Not Chat About Despair, Artemis, Missing Dates, Be Sure that My Grave Is Kept Clean, Were You There When They Crucified My Lord, Der Stunde Kommt, A Man and a Woman Go Through the Cancer Ward, The Cats Will Know, in Despair, Fernand, Amsterdam Abiuxe Petra, A La Sierra de Armenia. Quite thrilling, all of them. It’s amazing the physicality of her performing—not just how her voice moves and what it evokes, but how her jaw distends and her face seems to reshape itself behind and around the sounds. At times Ms. Galas attacks the piano—sometimes she literally hits it with open palms, not on the keys. Even when she’s rolling quick notes, flicking them out from under her hands, it’s not a light touch. There is so much power in her music.

After the first few pieces, she grabbed a bottle of water, put it down and poised over the keys. She drew in  her breath, stopped, tsked her tongue and started speaking. Ms Galas made a vague reference, which implied had gotten negative reviews for failing to introduce the songs/explain the foreign languages/chat between pieces recently.  The first she offered was about “The Cats Will Know”, her setting of the poem by the Italian Cesare Pesare. It’s one of his suicide poems, written and left behind in the hotel where he killed himself, she told us. After talking how he had been imprisoned as a subversive, she said “He killed himself because he was predisposed . . . to do that.” A sentence about his work. “And then he fell in love with a two-bit Hollywood . . . actress. And that was that, [pause] It’s true! Constance Doooooowling. Anyway, so much for her.”

Just so, Ms. Galas told random anecdotes and offered odd tidbits about some of the pieces when they ended. You so often hear about the intensity of her performance, the otherwordly and demonic nature of her voice, how visceral the experience is, but you never hear about how charismatic she is. But–of course–she’s charming. You don’t get to be so successful a force without it.

I was third row center. Best $15 I will spend this year.