Archive for February, 2003

Mr. Rogers

Friday, February 28th, 2003

Mister Rogers died yesterday, and it wasn’t until I heard the remembrances on the radio that I realized what a huge impact he had on me as a person and as an actor.

‘What made me an actor’ is one of those topics I obsess about since I probably shouldn’t be one. I grew up as a musician and although it might not seem such a huge jump, the chasm between these two types of performers is enormous. The strange looking kid who, although not gregarious, has two or three really close friends, and together they create little worlds and study how things work- that is a musician. The child who has a thousand friends but none of them too close, who discovers that they can speak loudly and handsomely to a group and that group will listen, who finds a way to be that which each person needs them to be- that is an actor.

I am a musician at heart, although I am not actually a very good musician. I have always had two best friends, from Tom Wilkinson and Eric Landis to, presently, Mac Rogers and Steve Alexander, (and including ‘Mannin and Jay’ and ‘Chris and Chris’ and ‘Memo and Carlos’ and ‘Mike and Dani’) (although for a brief time it was just ‘me and Craig’, but that was a different thing altogether) (and some might argue that right now it’s ‘Mac and Jordana’, but when you are a ‘dork’, any girl who lets you ‘kiss their boobs’ is less a ‘friend’ and more a ‘miracle sent from God’) and my friends and I were generally always involved in some group project, dorking out all over the place.

Maybe it was living in LA, where I would run into people who call themselves actors, but who had no real talent, they were simply beautiful and well connected that gave me this disparaging view. Maybe it was that, in opera, you refer to the two different groups as ‘musicians’ and ‘singers’. But of the legions of actors out there, most of them are horrible people. I am less mad about this than I let on, I feel like I ought to be outraged and actually I am a little annoyed, so my reaction is somewhere between.

Anyway, I retrace my steps and I realize there are a hundred little things that made me want to be an actor.

Kevin Bacon in ‘Footloose’. Seriously. He is the new kid and he walks down the hallway and, as an actor, he decides to wipe the crap off the sides of his mouth and wipe his hand on his pants. That kind of detail is amazing.

Tim Matheson in Animal House. Again. He walks in the room and says ‘One, two, three, four… well I only brought a dozen roses so some of you boys are gonna have to share’, and on the last word he is decked. You have to see it to believe it.

Chip Zien in Into The Woods. His rendition of ‘No More’ must have been a dream come true for Sondheim. When you listen to this, you know why musical theater can be so effective.

And a thousand more. I could make a huge list, and it isn’t just actors. However, the best musical theater actor ever was probably Mr. Rogers. For any hosers out there who are mi-mi-mi-ing there way in a practice room at some junior college, watch Mr. Rogers sing a song.

There is a cheesiness with which so many singers decide to extend certain phrases and land on certain beats, like they are using their voice as an instrument. And that is fun sometimes, when you are desperate for them to get back on track. The flip side is when a singer keeps everything on the beat and let’s their amazing voice just ride and wail. I have taken to calling these singers ‘strippers’ because they just stand out there and let you see their goods.

Mr. Rogers speaks through his songs. It helps that he wrote all of the music on his show, but he is telling you something with each song he performs. The idea that every day someone got on TV and said to kids, some of them hiding from raping uncles and malicious parents, that he loved them exactly the way they are is actually his greatest legacy. But I was fortunate enough to not need that. What I got instead was to see first hand what it means to turn a phrase. As an adult I would watch his show and find myself choked up, not because of the message but because of the incredible honesty.

Play the tape in your mind. When he sang ‘let’s make the most of this beautiful day,’ listen to it. There is no better teacher for how to turn a phrase than Mr. Rogers. He was a great man, and his death is an enormous loss.

Basketball and weather

Wednesday, February 26th, 2003

The only people who take the weather personally, they say, are poets and madmen, and although I consider myself neither of these, I have to say that the weather is getting me down. The whole of New York has been sad for months now, and working my way through it has been really tough. Still, a few thoughts.

Maybe Matt Doherty should be fired. I want him to be the lost son who returns and makes this a great program, but the losses vs. the talent, and all of the transfers and lost players, I just don’t know. I have never, ever, said a bad thing about him. But now, just maybe, he should go.

There is a good man named Todd McCallough who suffers from a nerve disease too weird to name. He was the center for the last two Eastern conference champs (two different teams) and as such got beat up by Shaq. But he is funny as hell, is a really good man, and has just been cut down before his career can even begin. Some of us are Mozart and some of us are Clint Eastwood, but the vast majority find some random thing blocking us from ever meeting our potential.

I have been invited to do a reading, a sort of protest of the possible war, and I am really conflicted about it. I want us questioning the war, but I am not positive that it is bad. Our judicial system says that we are innocent until proven guilty, and I don’t want to go to war unless we can prove that without war, we are vulnerable. I am not against the war, I am against going to war the way things are now, nothing has been proven to me. And yes, you have to prove it to me, I am an American and I decide.

Ephedra has gotten a lot of attention, and I don’t really know what to say about that. I have used it off and on for years, and I don’t think anything that is wrong with me can be attributed to its use. I take one sixth of the recommended dose, and people who are affected by it tend to take more than the label says. But, then again, I am sitting here at 12:35 with a mild panic attack.

Kobe doesn’t have to score 40 for the Lakers to rip out your heart. I wouldn’t know because mine quit beating when Carolina lost tonight.

Saturday, February 22nd, 2003

The best kind of car accident to get in is the one where the cars all do what they are supposed to and no cars touch each other. On the way home last night, we were almost to our exit and a small sports car came flying sideways right at the front of our car. I hit the brakes and steered into the direction of the other car’s skid and it seemed that the front of both cars locked up as we slid in to the snow bank on the side of the Northern Parkway.

I never heard contact and the feeling was more like the ABS kicking in (which sucks because I was, uselessly, frantically pumping the brakes). We both pulled to the side of the road and a short guy from Rhode Island got out of his car and we wandered around looking for damage. I thought I could see where my bumper hit the side of his car, but it also looked like I had rubbed against a snow bank on Long Island somewhere, and there was not a scratch on his car.

He said it was because he prayed every morning. I saw that he had a really young lady in the passenger seat and a baby in the back and the car was full of balloons. We traded phone numbers, just as a precaution, and I went back and sat in the car with Jordana as that poor dude tried desperately to get his girl to calm down.

I was definitely scared, but it was going pretty slow and it was all fine. I was thinking that if I had died or if anything had happened, a mere two days after I did a new age-y thing and set myself up with five goals to complete before the end of May, it would have really pissed me off. Strangely, my thoughts did wander to magical realism for a moment (Jordana in the car is why we weren’t hit0, but actually I just realized that good, safe, new cars are better at avoiding accidents. I never once thought to God. I did thank the other dude for praying and we hugged each other.

Our Boys

Thursday, February 13th, 2003

I probably won’t be posting for the next few days, so before I go, here are the boys I am talking about whenever I say ‘Our Boys’

Raymond Felton- Six foot tall point guard. Carolina has a rich tradition of point guards, and Raymond, after only twenty some games, has already positioned himself as one of the five best to ever play for Carolina. It is possibly that he will become as great as Phil Ford or Ed Cota or Kenny Smith. He reminds me of my friends who succeed after much hard work is married to their talent, people that I can never seem to be close to but in whom I have enormous trust.

Damion Grant- Six Eleven Center. Damion is a monster who is crippled by two things, his knees and his total lack of basketball knowledge. Apparently, until about two years ago, he was a cricket player. He decided to stay in high school one extra year in order to get his SATs up to a respectable level. That level is reported to be in the low 1300s.

Jonathan Holmes- Six foot tall point guard. John is a senior and white, and has probably had to deal with a lot of jokes made about his name. He and Will Johnson are apparently real emotional leaders, and after what they have been through I can’t imagine that they aren’t both amazing men. Anyone out there who wants to hire the best man available for any job anywhere should find Jon Holmes and hire him.

Will Johnson- Six foot Eight forward. Will is also a senior and is playing basketball as a walk-on. He is on scholarship after all these years, but it is the coveted Morehead Scholarship. He has played in more games at UNC than any other player ever, and shoots and rebounds really well from the outside. He reminds me of my friend Seth, he is so lovely and so capable and so hard to be afraid of.

Jackie Manuel- Six foot five, listed as a 3. Almost absurd that he has a position defined by his offensive set when he should just be listed as a six foot five blanket with the reach of a 7 foot tall guy. Jackie is amazing. His heart and hustle remind me of the best of Joe Forte, but his obvious love for Carolina and for the team put him in a class all by himself. He is a monster on defense, in many ways the best defender Carolina has had in years including Haywood and Jamison. When you see him, you would swear he was 6 foot ten. He is like so many of my secondary friends, the guys who try so hard and laugh whether they succeed or fail.

Sean May- Six foot eight Center. May is an upended sofa of a man. He looks like a football player, but he moves like a ballerina. He has a broken foot, but the mere thought of his return, coupled with the fact that we have shown we can win without him, makes the rest of the ACC nervous. He loves the game so much that he is actually a favorite among those who hate Carolina (i.e. everyone who doesn’t love Carolina).

David Noel- six foot six small forward. Possibly one of the best things to happen to Tarheel fans in two years. He is paying his way to go to Carolina, and when McCants and May weren’t in a couple of games, Noel exploded. He is an athlete’s athlete, he’s like my friends who can act, direct, produce, even paint the frickin’ set. At this point next year, he will be devestating.

Byron Sanders- six foot nine power forward. He might be two seasons away from amazing, but against UVA, he showed Watson that he is capable of flashes of brilliance. Three times in a row he stopped the big man, two blocks and two rebounds. He is sweet and long faced. Watching him play is like listening to my friends sing, it is sometimes not so good but they match a lack of talent with a plethora of intensity.

Melvin Scott- shooting guard, six foot one. I loved this guy last year for being one of the few bright spots and for sharing a surname with my roommate. All last year we kept tabs on cousin Melvin and cousin Jawad. Melvin can be deadly from anywhere, an insane shooter who, unfortunately, sometimes meets shots he doesn’t like. I wouldn’t bet against him hitting it from anywhere on the court, but he’s complicated, going long stretches of hitting nothing. He’s like the girl friends I have, infuriating and gorgeous, a complete enigma but still someone you adore.

Jawad Williams- Six foot eight power forward. He reminds me of my sister. As soon as you think he’s down and out, he rebounds and is just amazing to watch. You can never count him out. He can do everything, and as soon as he does it all the time he will be a first round NBA pick. Plus, he carried on the Williams surname that has done the Tarheels proud for years.

Rashad McCants- Six foot four small forward. My favorite player in years. He is sort of a mess, but a phenomenally talented mess. I can’t help but identify with him. When he is on, he is amazing, and when he is off he hates himself and blames everyone and sulks. And everyone wants him to grow up, but I say, go ahead and sulk. He has an artist’s temperament in the body of an athlete. He can’t help himself. If he had gone one step in a different direction he would be a brilliant director or choreographer and no-one would know why he was drinking alone in the dressing room or why he treats the people in his life so badly. I have never seen anyone who hates to lose more, or who blames himself more for his failings at the same time as celebrating his successes. He is a whole person, complicated and brilliant, and everyone knows what they can do if they don’t like his shit.

These aren’t just basketball players, they are both people and symbols of people. They become stand-ins for me and the people I love, and when they play I watch them like I would watch my own friends and family. And the people we play against… they become worse than Saddam.

I know it’s unreasonable, but I have no choice. It just happens.

Lifetime Achievement Push

Tuesday, February 11th, 2003

Every year my friends and I vote on and release “The Cribbies”, a companion set of awards to the Oscars. Whereas the Oscars are voted on by the Academy of Motion Pictures, the Cribbies are assigned by the members of The Virtual Crib. More on who they are at some other date.

In any case, one of the nice things about the VC and the cribbies is that we get to occasionally make up categories that serve a particular function in any given year. While Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay and Guy You Most Want To Do It With remain on the ballot annually, sometimes we get to vote on ‘Biggest Lie’ or, a likely award this year for John C. Reilly, ‘Worst Guy To Be Married To’.

This year, I am pushing for a lifetime achievement award for a brilliant and under-appreciated actress, Mary Steenburgen. She is one of those actresses who never really headlines anything, and yet with really simply delicacy and accuracy, she will often be the thing you remember about a movie long afterwards.

She won an Academy Award for a movie called ‘Melvin and Howard’, which I have never seen, but around the same time she was the modern romantic interest for Malcom McDowell in “Time After Time”. This was, by far, my favorite ’80s HBO Played A Thousand Times’ movie. For the next few years, she kept getting stuck in movies where she could be slightly daft, movies that referenced themselves like ‘A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy’ and ‘Romantic Comedy’, and she was amazing in both these films, even with a crappy Dudley Moore vehicle being the only thing carrying her.

It wasn’t until the end of the 80s when she stole my heart permanently. Parenthood is one of those perfectly balanced movies, full of stuff for guys, packed with stuff for girls, hilarious and hard to watch, full of lines you find yourself quoting all the time. And it contains several other actors that need to be considered for Lifetime Achievement Awards, but at the center of the movie, the reason it works, is Mary. She is demanding and strong, smart and feminine, demure and powerful. The movie means to be about Steve Martin, but it’s actually about her, about how she manages to deal with him. When they are looking through the trash for the retainer, when she tells him she is pregnant, when they fight before the school play, there is just moment after moment of perfect acting in this movie for her.

Three other performances have to be compared to that one. First, as the aging beauty queen in Miss Firecracker, suddenly that same hallowed frame is filled with a mild desperation, her looks, that you never really considered before, become a clown mask, distorted and angular. Then, and Jesus I love her in this, she walks out of Philadelphia with the most indelible reaction to the whole issue. She is surrounded by heavy weights, some of the best actors alive then, and she has my favorite moment. As the lawyer for the defense you see on her face that she wishes not only that this guy didn’t have AIDS, but that no-one did. Not because it would be a better world, but so she wouldn’t have to think about them having it, and what they did to get it. She is a thousand pounds in this movie. Finally, just a short while ago, she was revelatory in “Sunshine State”, a mess of a movie, but one in which her performance has to be seen to be understood. The depth of her need to do well, her wide swinging powers of love and disgust, are amazing.

She did a lot of other stuff, “Powder” and “The Butcher’s Wife” come to mind, and has been a steady working actor for 25 years. But as a thin beautiful American woman, her best roles are behind her now, her biggest opportunities to shine. I don’t know if her TV show is still on, or if her marriage to Ted Danson is either, but I know that she is one of the people that made me want to be an actor. Her skill and precision are amazing, her beauty and dignity so subvertable when needed, she is the living embodiment that there are no small parts, only small actors.

The War

Sunday, February 9th, 2003

The hardest thing that our elected representatives have to do is to chose between evils. They never talk to us about the horrible gray areas like choosing between losing a hundred lives and losing a thousand. But those choices have to be made. If there was an airliner full of Americans flying at the pentagon, we would now shoot it out of the sky, but on September 10, 2001, that would be unthinkable.

The way Iraq is right now, if Saddam lives another ten years, the millions of people who will die is, in my mind, so much higher than the number of people who will die in a short war. The problem is that the people dying in Iraq without the war are Iraqis, with the war it will be much less Iraqis plus hundreds, maybe a thousand, Americans. And for me, that is complicated.

I hate organized religion and nationalism more than maybe anything else in the world, which makes dealing with my pro-Israel friends and relatives difficult. But I believe in America as an idea, I believe that being an American is not something you are born in to or that you are brainwashed to accept. It is something you choose, like millions and millions of people who took ships and planes to this country did, like the people risking their lives to cross the borders and stringing together dingies do every day.

And the loss of American lives to protect Iraqi lives has to be a large exchange rate, it has to be times ten. I will trade a hundred American lives for a thousand Iraqi. I will trade an economic dip in the US to liberate and allow American ideals to flourish in a country that is currently oppressed.


— Saddam is not in the business of killing Americans. He is in the business of being an oil despot.

— Bush is the wrong man to lead this war. Aside from Colin Powell, the number of hideous mis-speakings in this administration is insane. He can’t build a coalition.

— We aren’t stopping Saddam from taking over the Middle East. He hasn’t shown that he has the ability to do damage to anyone.

— I am not convinced that Saddam has any ties to Al Qaeda and even if he does, I am not convinced that he has anything to give them. He wants to be rich and to sell oil to stay rich, and the only way he would support our enemies is if we attack him and he is going to die.

— Going to war against Iraq does not insure that when the war is over we will have the infrastructure in place to actually save lives in Iraq.

— Bush is fighting this war because he wants to avenge his Dad, because he has limited imagination for how conflicts can be resolved, because it will give the US a puppet government in the middle east that he believes will calm down tensions, because he can offer the oil contracts to rich American businessmen who have been promised them, and to remain as presidential as possible in order to keep Republicans and himself firmly ensconced in power. And because he believes that, in the long run, it is necessary and will save lives.

So, I can’t support this war. I am not convinced that the exchange rate is high enough. People don’t become farmers because they realize the advantage in calorie/acre, people don’t make writing systems that will give them advantage over illiterates, people don’t play basketball to lose weight. But we need leaders in our government who see the big picture, the larger picture and the world-wide-influence picture and make the difficult decisions for reasons that may be too complicated for normal people to fully grasp. And I don’t think we have the minds in the white house now to do it.

When I think of other areas of ethnic cleansing around the globe, I feel like a hypocrite, but I also believe that if you, or your grandmother or great grandfather came to this country (like mine did) in search of being an American, in search of the freedom and ideals that out country seems to embody, then you deserve to have your representatives do what they can to keep you alive so you can pursue happiness. It is more important to me that Americans live than anyone in the middle east does.

My mind is not locked into this. If there are WMDs, if it is shown that Saddam can destroy our country and wants to, if it can be shown that the exchange rate is really high, then I would support it.

Cry me a River

Thursday, February 6th, 2003

I played the music I have written so far for Mac and E last night, and although I think they thought it was just fine, I was a little disturbed to hear a very distinctive voice in all the pieces. It’s nice for a concept album if all the songs sound vaguely familiar, but it is really trying on the ear to a theater patron to listen to the same goddam songs over and over.

Adding to this somewhat is that I am using similar sounds on my crappy Mac speakers to play the songs, so of course they will sound vastly more varied once I arrange it for a group of musicians. But I noticed that my music falls into one of two categories, either a sort of groove over which a tune exists, or a tune under which a chord progression exists. That may seem really stupid to say, but only one of the pieces I wrote stemmed from a complete musical idea; sounds, chords, melody and rhythm all articulated.

I find that the music I like best is the stuff where everything is purposeful. Early REM exists on many levels for me, the bass lines are melodic, the chord progressions are moody, the lyrics are… actually the lyrics don’t make any sense to me… but each of the pieces can be listened to time after time and they exist beyond the moodiness of the thing.

Plus, I don’t yet know if I have the same gift for lyrics that my mom has. There are some rhymes that I really like, and then some I am not sure I can get away with. I like the line ‘You breathe in my breath, my head starts to reel’, but later on in the song I use ‘Like Lady McBeth watching blood stains congeal’ to follow the same pattern, and even though it works, it just feels kind of white and proud of itself. Which in itself isn’t bad, Gershwin did it all the time (I’m bidin’ my time/ ‘cause that’s the kind of guy I’m), but he didn’t do it in songs that were heartbreakers.

I have such a love for those old torch songs. I don’t even care if they have any chance of translating, that is the music that moves me, as much as hip-hop or moody 80s music. In ‘Cry Me A River’ she sings;

“Remember? I remember all that you said./ Told me love was too plebian. Told me you were through with me, an’/ Now you say you love me,/ well, just to prove you do,/ Go on and cry me a river, cry me a river, I cried a river over you”

I will never write anything that wonderful, but I certainly can try.

That’s it, really

Tuesday, February 4th, 2003

I think in order to do something well, you have to practice it. I was taught early in my so called career that practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent, but I am starting to feel like that is a trick that educators use to make them feel important. The truth is, you can do it wrong twenty times, and that’s better than not doing it at all.

I wrote a musical when I was twenty or so, based on the life of King David. It opened with King Saul insane and raving and the child David comes in and sings and soothes his savage breast. Then everything else happened (including Bathsheba completely naked and a love affair with Jonathan, Saul’s son) and David tells God to go to hell and the play ends with David raving and insane and his son, Solomon, comes in and sings to him.

Clever, right?

I have written a lot of songs and screenplays and plays and even a novel which is about 600 pages long and nowhere near done. And these pieces follow a pattern that was only made clear to me for the first time today. Every time I feel the cycles start to spin and my life go out of control, I bury myself in a project over which I have complete control. People are shocked that anorexics think they are skinny, but it isn’t that, it’s control over something, anything.

A least this time it isn’t a shitty screenplay or novel. As I work my way through this, the music is starting to get good. And it is starting to come out easier, I am able to find what I want to do because the language is making more and more sense. I have started hearing music in my head, the way I hear the characters voices that I play, and…

I mean, yeah, it’s pathetic and I have built something that I have complete control over. But I feel terrible all the time except when I am writing music. So, what do I care. Sure, I could be doing more, but, I mean, I’m not, so I’m gonna do this. Better this than sitting in a pile of my own shit.

It also needs to be said that when you have a natural self destructive and cruel bent, there is a certain satisfaction in finding that inclination seen through to fruition. Nothing I can really do about the thrill of feeling hated, I wish it wasn’t there and I continue to do what I can to stop it, but, y’know, there it is, and I have to swim through it.

Tuesday, February 4th, 2003

I wrote something yesterday that included a reference to a friend of mine who lives in North Carolina. It seemed to be saying something bad about both his life and his artistic pursuits. This is a man who has never said anything bad about me, and I feel like this needs to be addressed.

Jordana is a strange bird. She is lovely and talented and smart and demure and a thousand other things that people are attracted to, but when you spend a couple of weeks getting to know her, you start thinking she might be crazy. Her sense of humor is always two pegs removed from where you think the joke is going, her sense of the world has a strong moral center colored by these strange ideas of retribution and celebration. Her possibility for joy is incredible.

I have to be honest, my world is made up of people who get Jordana, and people who don’t, and I draw a line between them. People who meet her and then seek her out, show me an ability to see past the madness to the greatness within. It’s hard to do, particularly since so much of what we do as people is based on snap judgements.

There is another woman who is like Jordana in many ways. In an effort not to disclose names, I hope you’re okay with me calling her CM. When I met her eight years ago, I sort of half fell in love with her and that has never left me. She and I were doing a show together, and I tried desperately to get her to date my friends, although one by one they didn’t understand her or have the patience to make it work. And I started feeling like, either you get her or you don’t, and the man who finally does will have to be a great man indeed.

And then this man, the director I mentioned yesterday, met her and fell in love completely. And I can’t help myself, the fact that he asked her to marry him makes me feel endless affection for him. He got one of the beautiful strange creatures that most people just can’t figure out. And I wrote something yesterday that could easily be misinterpreted as disrespectful to him.

Concerning the lifestyle, two days ago I asked Jordana, ‘If you got the chance to move to a small town and run a theater company, would you do it?’ and she answered, ‘in a heartbeat.’ What my two friends are building for themselves in North Carolina is the dream. If you live in New York, every time you leave and visit somewhere else, you are surprised by how much you want to stay and try this life there. To live in North Carolina and do theater… it just doesn’t get any better than that. If I felt like I had already tried to get a national audience for my work, then I would leave and try this life somewhere like that. The only problem is the radar, and how low it doesn’t go.

When you go through one of these periods of self-loathing, when you start shoveling shit on yourself, you sometimes get it on other people. I wish I hadn’t done that, and I guess I will have to be careful about doing it in the future.