Archive for March, 2003

Monday, March 31st, 2003

I’ve been trying to do this for a while, so let me see if this works.

This is a picture of me at my job…

Pools and Trains

Monday, March 31st, 2003

The NCAA pool this year is sort of boring. It’s boring every year, but the group that I get in to is filled with people who don’t know anything about basketball. It is actually filled with monkeys and dogs and, y’know, girls… people who make their picks by how cute the point guard is. My friend Mac chooses his team by which name would make a better play title. Gonzaga takes the whole thing, Holy Cross is a close second.

So the fact that my final two are still playing should be cooler than it is. I never pick this shit right. But I have Kansas and Syracuse in the final game. It won’t happen, but it’s cool to be close.

The N train was stopped at Queensboro plaza this morning and Jordana switched to the 7 to go into the city. I decided that, since there were already 150 people waiting for my seat I would just hold off and go into the city later. It dawned on me only once we were in separate trains and the doors were closed that the “police action” which had stopped the N from going in to the city might be the thing that kills her, and I watched her disappear into the tunnel.

She called me on her cell the minute she got out of the train, and then she called me from work to tell me about another Food Trade Show that we are invited to. But it sucks. Every time we do our daily shit, it feels like it could be waltzing us into a bad situation. Michelle is too scared to take the train, Ian and Tessa are almost never in the city, and we have devised a plan for what to do when the attack hits and our phones don’t work. It isn’t If, it’s When.

But it is still New York. It’s still home. It is still the Mecca for people like me. I kind of understand why some Jews won’t leave Jerusalem, no matter how bad it gets. I still see the Empire State Building every day, so it just doesn’t get any better.


Friday, March 28th, 2003

Matt Doherty may have lost his job, already. Matt is the young energetic and some say bi-polar coach of my team. He played with Jordan, Worthy, Perkins and more and won a championship at Carolina, and he has returned to pick up the mantle of the hardest job in amateur sports. They are leaving it up to the players to help make the decision whether or not to fire him.

I’m torn also because he lost a lot of games in a player revolt last year that probably was led by Joe Forte (who left the year before) who has become one of the shittiest people to ever graduate from Carolina (he was just suspended for cheering the other team when Seattle played Washington). Doherty lost one of his three key players, yet got five or six huge wins and ended the season one shy of twenty wins with a rag-tag group of Freshmen and Sophomores. He did all this while loving the school and dealing with rumors and attacks on all sides…

Wait a minute. I’m not torn at all. You want to let a group of 19 year olds decide policy for one of the most storied programs in the country? I wouldn’t let a group of 19 year olds have a say in what the next play Gideon Productions produces, why the hell would it matter that they think the coach is a jerk? Doherty’s players have consistently gotten better (Manuel and Scott basically came out of nowhere this year and Jawad was our team’s most consistent player) and it is impossible to know what a team gets from a coach when they are all underclassmen.

At the end of Jordana’s first year at Carolina, she sought a transfer. I jumped from school to school, I didn’t know anything until I turned thirty. Some kids think Doherty’s mean? Why isn’t it the football playing walk-on who’s complaining? Unless Coach smacked someone, then these kids should straighten up and tough it out. If you want to live your life playing a game, then you had better decide that it is worth an enormous amount of abuse and hard work.

My career is a game. As kids we pretended to be other people, now I do it for a living. And in order to do it, I have to face a lot of bullshit. Matt Doherty should change not one thing about what he is doing, and the staff at UNC should be ashamed of not standing behind him before. Unless he has done something criminal or is medically insane, I am ashamed of how my team has handled this.


Thursday, March 27th, 2003

Pop songs have a half life. A song shoots up the charts, or whatever has replaced the charts now, and the radio audience can’t believe how catchy and fun a song is, and they want to hear it, apparently, seventeen hundred times a day. Then they start to notice that they aren’t paying attention because they know every single nuance, every single backing vocal, every possible musical minutiae. As a child, when they still played 45s, some of the top 40 stations would play songs at 47 or 48 so they could play “the most songs in a day”. And the variation in pitch was something my idiot second grade friends could pick up on because they heard the song a billion times a day.

So the audience gets bored without realizing it and the song starts slipping down the charts, or whatever it is now. Then a month or six weeks pass and someone gets a wild hair up their ass and plays that old song on the radio. Old, in that it slipped six weeks ago. And the audience thinks its awesome because they have instant nostalgia for, y’know, late January now that it’s March, or something.

Anyway, I think this is true. I noticed it when I was a kid and I was so glad that “Bette Davis Eyes” wasn’t on the radio anymore because it would scare the crap out of me, and suddenly, there it was again, playing once an hour for a couple of days. Ever since then I have assumed this half-life theory, but once I got introduced to actual math I realized that since I can’t really prove this is true, since it is something I decided was true and then looked for proof, I can’t really say it’s true.

Anyway, that is how I feel about the cops and the military today. Everywhere I went it seemed like there was someone with a gun. Last night when I drove to Brooklyn to pick up my mom from my brother’s house there were cops everywhere. Tonight when I went to Guitar Center, there were cops everywhere. Every train has a cop on it, a block from my house there are marines in the middle of the road protecting the Triboro.

We may be a target, but it looks to me like we put a bullet-proof vest on top of that target. I might just have decided that’s true and I am looking for proof, but I can’t imagine why thinking any other way would be better.

My Mind

Tuesday, March 25th, 2003

Carolina On My Mind came on this morning at the gym. I don’t know why they sometimes play easy listening at a meathead factory, but they do, and this morning at some point James Taylor came on. I almost couldn’t breathe.

Of course I was on a treadmill, so not breathing was sort of par for the course.

It seems ridiculous. North Carolina isn’t “Carolina”. It isn’t the place of safety and strength and expression that is has come to mean to me. There are racists and idiots running the state. If anything, New York is closer to “Carolina” for me, this is the place where I have the most options, this is the place where I can look at people and we all remember the Towers falling, we all remember the 14th street Salvation Army, we all remember desperately reading and writing emails to our families…

But the war weighs heavy on everyone, me included I guess. I feel alone in my concerns about it. Why did people think it would be going faster? We’ve been at war for about five days, and the stock market is reeling from the perceived problems we are having. I feel like the people who wanted this war thought we would be liberating Iraq, and the people who didn’t want this war want to stop it right now.

I feel like we could have waited, but not forever. So, what do I know? I can’t listen to my friends mock the peace protesters, and I can’t listen to my friends insist that Bush is a monkey, or Hitler, or whatever. I can’t even pay attention. You must forgive me if I’m up and gone to Carolina in my mind.

Survey Answers

Monday, March 24th, 2003

1. What is your favorite musical genre?

At a certain point, it’s impossible to separate into genres. And if it’s impossible at any point, it’s impossible at all points for me. Not to be, y’know, *me* or anything, but genre rules are broken as often as they are followed. I would have to say that melodic music is more enchanting to me, although that would not be totally true. I am turned off by music that is too easy (unless the idea is simplicity), or not tune-ful enough (unless it is meant to challenge), or with obvious melodic turns (unless its a ballad designed to comfort).

2. Do you like your music to be slow (Danny Boy, Old Man River), medium tempo (I Want to Hold Your Hand, Honky Tonk Blues), fast (Blitzkrieg Bop, It’s Raining Men) or super fast (Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, car alarms)?

I want music to match its intention. I think if you listen to ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ and ‘It’s Raining Men’ you will find that they have almost identical beats per minute, the Beatles might even be faster. I have a tendency to rush music that is written slower than I want it to be, but that is just in performance. Medium Tempo music can often seem to be non-committal to me, so I guess I would have to say Other Than That.

3. Do you most like music that is avant-garde (John Zorn, Melt Banana), contemporary (Nelly, The Strokes), ìclassicî (The Beatles, Bach), or traditional/neotraditional (Robert Johnson, the Chieftains)?

If these are the examples, I have to say Classic, although I don’t think that’s true. I love contemporary Pop (except for Nelly and The Strokes who sound like bad versions of that “You Got What I Need” dude from ’89 and Television). Mostly, though, I would listen to pop music or Hip-Hop, if I was listening to the radio. I have a blue collar reaction to Avante-garde that I usually ignore. But if something is difficult and unimportant, it infuriates me that I purused a degree in music just to understand it.

4. Do you prefer music from the industrialized West, or that of some other country/region?

I like Indian music, I love Asian music, particularly Asian folk music. Again, when Celtic music, Klesmer, Appalachian and Asian folk songs all have similar chord structure and pentatonic scales, it makes me wonder where you want to draw the line.

5. Which do you enjoy more, academic music (music created within the context of a rigid theoretical framework like Beethoven or U. Srinivas) or vernacular music (popular or folk music passed down through oral tradition or informal study like Hank Williams or Pearl Jam)?

I was speaking with my friend Ehren Gresehover about exactly this. Popular music is incredibly academic. The Beatles wouldn’t have done jack squat without a producer well versed in classical music. The guys from Pearl Jam spent hours every day practicing. Hank Williams probably sucked the first fifty times he performed. These people studied as much or more than people who were, in theory, raised and trained to be musicians. Mozart, arguably the most technical and academic performer ever, learned music from his father who learnt it from his father and so on.

I *don’t* like music that is undisciplined. I hate music that attempts little and feels good about achieving it. But most popular music in any field or genre has serious academia behind it. If someone finds a hot little girl with an okay voice and great dancing, she won’t be a star unless a team of serious musicians finds music she can record, uses every trick they have to keep the music performable and recordable, and then teach her as much as they can about music and singing.

If you are asking if I like music created in a structured environment for consumption vs. music created for personal use, I have to answer in the former. Because I often can’t swallow people’s horrible self indulgent, drooling-on-their-own-navel music.

6. Do you prefer music that is political?

No. Unless you mean music that shakes up the prevailing notions of music. Politically challenging to the history and future of music? Sure. Rite of Spring, Eroica, that kind of thing. But I think politics is incredibly sober, I think it is the kind of thing best kept to reasonable heads, and I think music, even when it isn’t great, is just this side of actual magic. Music is that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible, as the saying goes, and politics needs to be infinitely expressible. If you are singing a song of protest, I wish instead you would toss out any kind of lyrical restraint or cadential restraint, and tell me exactly what you think.

7. Do you prefer music that is religious?

I love religious music. I have never had a religious experience on any level that wasn’t associated with music. This is going to sound like an hyperbole, but I actualyl believe when I sing religious music. I believe things that I really don’t believe at all when there is no music.

8. Is music created with computers/samplers/turntables superior, inferior, or equally as good as music made from more traditional instruments?

This is a tricky question. First, let’s establish circumstances with a couple of assumptions.

1) Music exists as a means to relay experience in a more personal and profound way than simply re-telling stories. If you are conveying love or betrayal or whatever, music is a private statement that is then made public by performance

2) Music is best when it is as honest as possible.

3) The fewer steps between the writing of a piece of music and an audience, the more powerful that piece of music is.

Now, accepting these assumptions, I would actually argue that computers and samplers are superior and/or equally as good as music made from more traditional instruments. When a brilliant composer of limited instrumental skills gets to sit down with a machine that allows him to directly play *exactly* what he means for an audience, and he isn’t limited by the scope of tones he is able to achieve or by his having only two arms and hands, then you are getting the most honest expression possible.

The composer gets to make the sound appear in your mind exactly as it originally appeared in theirs. And each part of the music is expressed within the ideological framework of the composer, so you hear a bassoon phrased exactly as the composer wanted it to be phrased, you hear the piano play exactly where the composer wanted it played. This does not create a wooden experience unless the composer is wooden. Computer programs have become so elegant as to allow any kind of expression.

Here is a different set of assumptions.

1) Music is the expression of a people and a society. Music may be one of the few things that can be pointed to in order to establish ethnicity and cultural identity.

2) A great musical mind is like any other aspect of genius, it is more rare than we would admit and even if it does exist it may not exist when and where it can be of use. For the vast majority of minds, each aspect of being a musician or an instrumentalist takes a lifetime of diligence and dedication in order to be great.

3) Musical ideas, in and of themselves, are nothing. The ideas are only resonant when they are performed and consumed, so to speak, by other people. It is in the movement of a musical idea from one mind to another that the act of music takes place.

If these assumptions are true, I think you would have to argue that traditional instruments are superior to sampled music. When the question is asked, you normally think of The Man using mo-chines to replace instrumentalists, and a group of struggling renaissance men wearing frilly shirts clutching their bassoons looking imploringly at you not to replace them. That isn’t where the argument falls, actually. Singer-songwriters, who thirty years ago would have grabbed a nylon string guitar, are now staying up nights making their samplers loop stuff they recorded off TV. On the other side you have groups of nerds hammering out second violin parts and driving Yugos.

A composer brings in the same music he was going to create using his sampler and he puts it in front of an orchestra. The French Horn player has been playing this chunk of metal for thirty years, four hours a day. He has spent more time in his life playing the French Horn than you have spent, say putting on socks. His ability and elegance, his understanding of that one way of making music, his life spent in his country, with his language and his religion and his parents, he will bring all of that to the notes you have written for the French Horn. He won’t try to bring it, he won’t even care that he is, he just will.

And the first time he rehearses the piece with you and the orchestra, that is the first time that the musical idea will be expressed. And it will be shared, before it goes to the minds of people who haven’t trained a lifetime to understand it, with a performer who has been preparing his entire life to play that line of music. Maybe it’s perfect, maybe he won’t ask for a better voicing, maybe he won’t push the tempo or pull back into the beat. But for the casual listener, they won’t know why the French Horn part made them think of bread, it just will.

So, the short answer is that the circumstances determine what is best. But computers will never take the place of traditional instruments, only because music is, above all else, social and societal.

9. When evaluating a song, is the skill of the musicians very important, somewhat important, or not at all important?

If, by skill, you mean technical capacity, then it is less important than you might think I would say. If, by skill, you mean an ability to speak within the confines of the music, the ability to turn a phrase, then it’s all important. I don’t mind listening to people sing songs when they only know four chords, as long as they can speak to me through the song.

10. In what environment do you most often listen to music?

For other people’s music, in the car, at the gym, anywhere that I can use the music to quell tedium. For the music that I write, at home in otherwise silence, and almost constantly in my head until the piece I want to write is done.

11. Are you a musician?

Yes. But not a great one. Not even a really good one.

12. Aside from its economic importance for New York tourism, does musical theater have any place in the world?

You son of a bitch.

Musical theater is the only purely American art form. We accept that orchestral music is important. We accept that drama and dance are important. We accept that songwriting is important. Yet, the one art form that combines all of the available stage craft into one setting is constantly being decried as socially insignificant.

People who say they don’t like musical theater are as short sighted as those who say they don’t like Hip-Hop. You don’t have to like Oklahoma or Cats to have an appreciation for musical theater.

The question pisses me off because we never ask about the cultural relevance of Beethoven, a man who has been dead for 150 years. People always say, ‘Man, I should listen to more classical music’ (a term, by the way, that doesn’t mean a goddam thing. I have to assume ‘orchestral music’ when people say classical), and everyone loves the Flaming Lips when they dress up in clown costumes and become ‘theatrical’. But if Sondheim writes a show using all the characters in children’s stories and flips it around and fucks with it so much that at one point Little Red Riding hood and Snow White feed the narrator to The Giant in an effort to save their lives, people are too cool to even see what it’s all about.

Musical theater, outside the realm of Broadway, will continue to be relevant and relevatory, even if I have to write it my damn self.

13. Have you ever referred to a piece of music as being ‘important?’

I have. I think ‘We Shall Overcome’ is an important piece of music. ‘O, Canada’ is important. I don’t know that we would not fight for what we believe in if there was no music, but every situation that requires conflict or struggle seems to have music that matches it. Even in sports events now there are those Gary Glitter and Queen standards that everyone hollers along with.

Do I think other things are more important? Like loving your neighbor and electing good men and setting aside a little money for a rainy day? Totally. But I think a piece of music can be important.

Rally and March

Sunday, March 23rd, 2003

“End The War Now”. That’s what all the signs were saying yesterday when I found myself at Manhattan Theater Source doing a reading for some moderately distant friends. MTS is half a block from Washington Square Park, and we rehearsed and did the reading during the march and tried to leave during the rally.

Oh, and anyone who is reading this because they were steered here by Dan’s pool, I apologize. All I can say about the NCAA is that I seriously thought Notre Dame was going to lose early.

Now, I think I have made it fairly clear that I was against going into Iraq. But “End The War Now”? Now? You mean, you want us to have gone in to Iraq, kill, I don’t know, a thousand Arabs, send a couple of errant bombs into Iran, and then today you want us to say, ‘Y’know, this is wrong, we’re gonna pull out and leave Saddam in power. Sorry about the bombings…’

Five days ago? Sure. Stop the war, I am with you 100%. I went to a rally, I did Lysistrata. Three weeks from now? Okay. Let’s see where we are. But “Today”? This is the worst day possible for us to stop the war.

The world changes, every day. Every day there is new information. As of today, we have launched weapons in to Iraq to try to depose Hussein, who is a crazy mother fucker willing to kill his own people. Does he have weapons of mass destruction? Maybe, probably not. Is he a latter day Hitler? Who knows. But we have already attacked them, we are already at war. So now we have to march for a quick and decisive end, we need to rally for the death of Hussein.

But we can’t stop the war now. You don’t want the war to stop now. Why don’t people think? The rally had between 2 and 3 hundred thousand people, calling Bush a baby killer, asking for Chirac to be voted president in 2004. These signs that were more clever than useful, being used at a time when millions of lives are at stake. Twenty year olds who apparently think that bras were invented by the same guy who started the war, wearing low slung Brittney Spears jeans, chanting and screaming and smoking and being generally fun and cool.

Chirac is French. He can’t run for president. Oh, you were just kidding? You were just being clever and cool? Now is not the fucking time. Now is not the goddam time for you to have fun. It is a time for sobriety.

I am leftist, I am against the war, I cried when I watched Baghdad burn. But this is a new world, and you’ve got to use your goddam head. Think, for God’s sake.

War and Basketball

Saturday, March 22nd, 2003

Eight in the morning on a Saturday, and I am awake. Everyone is out doing stuff, so I am here by myself, trying to decide if I should go to an audition being held at the same time as, and right in the middle of, a huge anti-war demonstration.

I feel as much fear of retribution, when I think of the war, as I do concern about the Iraqis. I trust that my government is making it a priority to hit military installations primarily. I know that people are dying in Iraq today, but I hope that fewer will die over the long haul than have been dying in the last 12 years.

You can debate all you want about whether or not we should be at war. But watching it is sickening. It is spontaneously horrifying, you don’t have to decide. The one image that will remain with me are the people wandering away from burning buildings. Obviously, it took me back.

I have spent my avoidance time watching basketball and being with my friends. I missed ten of the first 32 match-ups in my pool, which is about par for the course. However, I only called one team wrong for the next round.

And let me say this; I am frustrated by the total lack of upsets in this tournament. Last night, Maryland was outplayed, out-hustled, out-coached and out-hearted by the number eleven seed UNC Wilmington team, and they led by one with three second left. A Maryland player, not their star, not even their second option, made a running one handed heave at the buzzer that dropped through as if he was sitting on top of the backboard by himself and let it go. Maryland wins, to solidify that only one real upset (If you call a 10 over a 7) would occur on the whole South/East side of the bracket.

In fact, let’s say a 10-7 match-up isn’t an upset. Then you have two in the whole tournament, Central Michigan beating Creighton (an 11-6) and (the only real long shot) Tulsa beating Dayton (a 13-4). If you had just picked the seeds as is, you would have missed 6, and that’s including 3 nine-over-eight picks.

Speaking of long, I saw Spider last night. At about ten minutes in, I thought ‘Wait, did this character do X?’ and about thirty minutes in, I was like ‘Oh, these characters are not who he thinks they are.’ and it turns out I was right. It was ninety minutes long, but it didn’t really mean anything to me. Great acting.

Listen, if you want cohesive thought, look elsewhere. I can’t believe I write this much…

NCAA and War

Friday, March 21st, 2003

Sorry. I was in Florida and then, y’know, the war.

I can’t talk about the war. Plenty of other people can and are, but it turns out that my reaction to it is sort of unreasonable. I was actually up vomiting all night Wednesday.

So, two things. I discovered, during my stay in Florida, that my unreasonable fear of flying is actually a loss of anonymity. We were on Space Mountain at Disneyland, and for a moment I was really scared. I somehow explained to myself that these rides do sometimes break, and it might break with me on it. This was Space Mountain, for chrissakes, it wasn’t even a scary ride. In the same vein, I know that planes don’t crash, I don’t even think I am scared of crashing. I am just suddenly afraid that the one time something terrible will happen will be the plane I am on, a logic I scoffed at up until… well, it turns out, up until September 11, 2001.

So apparently, I’m not quite the tough guy I have been thinking I was.

The other thing, can Duke please go ahead and lose the games they are supposed to lose? I mean, there is a reason that Colorado State is a 14 seed, they were badly coached and the choked so bad. But if they had done one or two things differently, they would have won, and I wish they had.

Also, that last blocking foul in the Mizzou game was the worst call I have seen in post season play. EVER. Kije has entered the pool for the fourth time in as many years, the second time since he died, and although he guessed the same number of opening night games as me, he lost three of his sweet 16 and one of his elite 8. Of course, he is a dead dog, so he’s doing pretty well. Jordana, Kije and I all have Kansas in the final, and they damn near lost last night.

Anyway, I really can’t think about the people dying and the people who want to kill me because of the war. My sister thinks New York is more dangerous than other places, but the Channel 1 local news is convincing me otherwise. In LA when I was a kid, I used to think the helicopters that constantly flew over head were ironically funny, now I feel so good every time I see them fly the East River pattern in front of my window.

Snow and funerals

Friday, March 7th, 2003

First of all, when exactly is the winter going to stop? What the frickin’ fuck? After the funeral yesterday we went to the actual plot and put the actual body in the ground, and snow was blowing sideways, up under the umbrellas, trying to Mary Poppins our asses out of there.

Jordana and her aunt Cheryl spoke at the funeral. Cheryl was actually lovely, she had a list of notes but tried to stay extemporaneous. She had been the president or, I don’t know, Chief or something, of her temple at one point, and her ability to keep an audience engaged was wonderful. Throughout the service everyone talked about Eleanor’s love of words and love of the written word, so when Jordana got up and read a very succinct lovely three paragraph thing that she had written, it was doubly powerful. Jordana’s innate shyness combined with her majestic presence gives her a regal countenance when she is speaking publicly, something that is so potent and yet so fragile, like Princess Di with an even bigger nose.

In any case, the weather yesterday was absurd, seriously. It was supposed to snow until maybe noon or one, and at six I looked out the window and it was still shitting down. I said, ‘It’s still snowing’ and Jordana’s dad looked out the window and said, ‘No, not really. That’s just a flurry.’ Which gave me some insight into his political views.

They mentioned me a couple of times during the funeral as a member of the family, and, I mean, I can’t really talk about how amazing that is. I spent some time shooting the shit with Jordi’s grandfather, probably because I was the only one also too uncomfortable to talk about Eleanor at all. The entire funeral was not only a celebration of her, but a recognition of the incredible devotion he had to her. When he was telling me about one of his trips to Australia, he said ‘I went with your grandmother and she wanted to tag an extra week on and do New Zealand. So I said sure…’ It was nice that he just figures she was my grandmother.

When they were mentioning all the couples (Jordana’s two male cousins got engaged within a few weeks of each other, and within a month or so of Ian’s engagement, so, y’know, I can’t get married for another ten years or I’ll look like a joiner), they mentioned Sabrina’s name, and Cheryl even decided it wouldn’t be humiliating to announce to the hundred or so people there that she was trying to find Sabrina a boyfriend.

I have this to say about that. The grass aint all that greener. Obviously, I don’t need to defend my feelings for J, but any of you single people out there? Just fucking enjoy it. The minute you enter into a long term relationship, the amount of thought you can put in to your own life is quartered, the number of relatives is doubled (or more), and the scheduled maintenance is not every 3 thousand miles, it’s every single foot. I wanted to take Sabrina aside and say ‘Um, dude, you are 23, gorgeous, and a girl. You could spend the rest of your life getting everything you want always, or you could find a guy who will treat you marginally, who won’t mature until he’s fifty, who will want to have sex with other girls and is only capable of love for about an hour at a stretch. I’m a guy, believe me’. But I didn’t.

I might say that to my sister, though.