Archive for January, 2005

A Tight Ship

Monday, January 31st, 2005

Oh yeah, then why is the door open?

These are pictures from the recording session of both “Fleet Week” and “Lady Liberty”, which are both songs from the show “Fleet Week” coming soon to a theater near you, if you happen to live in downtown Manhattan, and if by “soon” you’re thinking six months, and “coming” means, to you, it might happen, it might not.

As you can see, we take all of this very seriously. This is art with a capital “R”. Sarah’s last name is Strange, so insert whatever joke you like. She’s Canadian, so there’s a million.

This is Rob, hitting notes that only occur in men of his size while Jordana marvels at her luck getting to be in the room. I call those notes High Deez

It takes a special kind of woman to sign up for two tours of duty in ‘Nam. Kami is not one of those women, but she is willing to do musicals on boats and musicals for children and, thank you God, musicals with me. One of the best cast mates, hands down, *ever*.

If talent was actual currency, this picture would be worth 600,000 dollars. But our currency is actual currency, so this picture of Micah, Jordana and Rob is free to you, just for visiting my blog.

More later on the Ladle Redux, the complete lack of control one has in live theater, and my crippling inability to handle stress.

I’ll Know, There and Then

Thursday, January 27th, 2005

This blog goes out to my recently married and those in the conversation of marriage.

If it is actually hard to know when you have met the right one, it’s harder to know when you’ve met the wrong one. We have criteria that stretch all across the board, from hair colour to religion to sense of humor to shoe size, and when you have accepted, as we all must, that some of your criteria will not be met, it’s hard to know where to draw the line.

For some of us, it’s easy. We picture a life with the person we’re dating, and we see a path that is just so obviously one thousand times better than the path we are on now that it makes it easy to commit. I think, for a lot of people, being rich and handsome helps clear this up. If you are a rich and handsome man or woman than a) everyone pictures a life with you as easy and b) your life is already kind of easy, so you can move to the next set of criteria for choosing a mate.

I’m sure we’d like to pretend that this doesn’t still happen, but it does. People right now, our age, are getting married to people with money, people with American citizenship, people who own pizza parlors, because it clears up a bit of our future.

This hasn’t really happened with the group of people that I am friends with. We are sorta mired in lower-middle to middle-middle class, and we all know each other, and we’re all getting married anyway. And some of my friends who are doing quite well are finding it hard to find that special someone, so money doesn’t seem to be too much of a factor.

Ehtnicity doesn’t seem to be a huge factor, but I have to admit that none of my friends are dating outside the accepted ethnic structure. Everyone’s white, and you can go as far afield as Italian, Asian, maybe a little Spanish, but for the most part the ethnic specifics haven’t really been a point that has whittled down the field for too many people.

Just outside ethnicity is religion and politics, and honestly, for the most part, those things are so fluid that you really ought to not make a choice based on *only* this. My sister has said she wouldn’t date anyone who voted for George Bush, but, she’s still willing to date all of Washington State and, y’know, Illinois, so this shouldn’t be a problem. Besides all of that shifts under your feet, you can certainly change your mind about politics. And religion is something that becomes more important as you become more part of your community.

Looks… I mean, it really is mostly that, and you can’t argue against it. I’d always claimed to live a life devoid of such crass beauty issues, but when it was pointed out that I was willing to date really good looking dumb girls, I quit claiming it. I definitely have never had a *specific* thing I was looking for (like a big breast fetish)…(No, Ian, I’m not talking about you)…(why are you getting so defensive? I said I wasn’t talking about you)…, I’ve always had an appreciation of different kinds of beauty, but I also have generally steered toward the blowing skirts of ladies who gather me to their breasts, so to speak.

But, fine, that all fades and I know it. Not that I’ve ever been married to someone over the age of 28, but I have the hots for Mary Steenburgen, so hopefully I won’t turn in to an asshole. Beauty isn’t something you can rely on.

The truth is, there is no answer, no one thing. But I can tell you what it is for me, and if it is this for me, maybe it will be this for my pals and friends who are just married or are considering it.

It isn’t the girl you want to be in the foxhole with. The foxhole is an actual life threatening situation that you are pretending the two of you are in together. For me, it’s the opposite. A non-life threatening situation that you think you are actually in, and she jumps in with you.

My wife and I both have the crazies. You have them too, and so does the person you’re dating. I get the crazies sometimes, and I say, “I know I shouldn’t be taking this personally. I know it isn’t as bad as it feels. But I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I’m fucking miserable”. When I tell her the sky is falling, she doesn’t even look up. She tells me to get inside and take cover, and she’ll let me know when it’s all over. She never tells me that the sky isn’t falling.

I know my friends hate this, that they might have to do it with their current or future girlfriends. I can think of one friend in particular who’s stomach is turning at the thought of having to make someone else’s crazy their own. (No, not you, Jonathan.)(Dude, I said not you!)

(Okay. Yeah, you.)

But a great relationship is one where the fine line of embracing the crazy without infantilizing or coddling is followed. “Yes, the sky is falling” met with “but you are strong enough to handle it, now put on your boots and keep walking.” Remember, you have to do it for them. But if you can, and if you can find a partner to do it for you, that’s really all you should be waiting for.

Fat-ish, funny, and sure… handsome

Tuesday, January 25th, 2005

I have been going through a horrible bit of soul searching lately, wondering if I even want to be an actor, which for my level of achievement is *hilarious*. There would be a little bit of outcry, certainly increased if I made an announcement and had a party. But most people in my situation slip out of being an actor like they remove a jacket on a long spring walk, everyone can see your discomfort and losing the jacket just makes sense.

I have stopped acting on several other occassions, so I don’t even take myself seriously when I talk like this. But in my recording work and my music writing, I actually feel like I’m building something. If I spend six hours writing a song, there is some hope that the song will go out and build something for me. It might get recorded, it might be performed in the context of something larger, it could earn me royalties.

And the recording work is just something that isn’t terribly precious to me. If I record something that I hate, it gets the same attention as something I love, and I do it almost as well. In the last session I did, my mom was producing and she wanted a change to a song. As I was trying to make it happen, she got on the talkback and said, “Do you think that’s a bad idea?” and I bellowed, “I think it’s a *TERRIBLE* idea, but I don’t know anything, let me just do it for you.” I don’t know which of us is right, I haven’t listened to it since I recorded it.

But acting for me has always been something that I take way too seriously. There is a level of fulfillment that is indescribable. What comes to mind are some of the musicals I did as a kid, and some of the straight plays I’ve done in the last ten years. And, to tell the truth, Lady & the Ladle. Extraordinary that this children’s show should end up meaning so much to me, but it’s like a tuning fork in my heart. It could be my Mormon upbringing, but there is something about the work I do that involves teaching and inspiring kids that goes straight to the pit of my heart.

The theater is just too precious. It’s too important, and I don’t have enough control as an actor to say what I want to say. The frustrations I sometimes have are withering to me, body and soul.

I roll my eyes more at myself than you possibly could, believe me. But, I also have to admit that the apparent pretention isn’t pretend at all. My working associates know my dedication, they know I live and die on stuff, and maybe I am a drama queen, maybe I go off and rant and bitch, maybe I am a hell of a lot more frail than I pretend, and maybe if I was tougher all of this wouldn’t matter. I think about my friends sometimes when I’m writing this blog, and I know they roll their eyes at half of it (the half where I say “My friends roll their eyes at me” – written exclusively so they will call me and say, “we take you seriously, Sean…”) but I also know that they probably see me wading through my life with a sense of crippling lack of accomplishment that is quite serious.

Paul Giamati did not get an Oscar Nomination today, and it pushes me ever closer to wanting to walk away. I am nowhere near the actor he is, Jesus Christ “American Splendor” is amazing and “Sideways” is pitch perfect, but he’s got to be thinking that it’s a really tough road for a guy who doesn’t have the genetic gifts of the rest of the nominees. Sure, he’s handsome in a way, and he’s funny and he’s a little fat-ish, but that shouldn’t stop him from getting the credit he deserves.

Not even a nomination.

And I am light years and eons behind him in building any kind of a career. I said I would quit when I was thirty, but I gave myself some space because of the divorce. I just never said how much space. It’s possible that I may be unable to do much else, I have no marketable skills, but even a lower rung ladder job that I hate is better than frustrations with a career in something I love. It’s gotta be.


Monday, January 24th, 2005

I like to leave ten day chunks in my blog to drive down readership every once in a while. Also, there are times when my thoughts really should remain private. I don’t have the ability to do anyone any harm, but I think people may think I’m trying to injure them at times, so it’s best that I don’t say anything.

There is a funny dichotemy that I’ve discovered in the theater world between, and these are terrible terms so bear with me, “musical theater” actors and “straight” actors. Despite the fact that there is so much similarity between being an actor on stage who sings by himself and an actor on stage delivering a soliloquy, the kinds of personalities it draws are totally different.

I started out as a musical theater guy. For years, there was a sense that the people I was in the show with were all either not living up to my standards, or that they believed I wasn’t living up to theirs. In order to succeed in musical theater, there is an understanding that you have to be a triple threat, able to sing like the very best singers, dance like the very best dancers and act with as much skill as the best actors. Hugh Jackman who can do all three is the model.

Because there are three disciplines, there is no way to survive without an almost militaristic work ethic, and that bleeds into the productions. There is a perception that a joke has a correct delivery, that blocking can be devised that is the *ultimate* use of space and contrast, that there is a mysterious set of perfect light cues that need to be uncovered and discovered. I don’t mean to describe this as humorless, because there is also a lot of love in musical theater, in fact there is a lot more of a sense of “magic” being created than in straight theater, where it leans more toward “expression”. In straight plays, I never hug my director, in musicals, everyone gets little cards and gifts for each other on opening night.

If you have eschewed the idea of being a good singer and a good dancer, then you focus just on acting, and you find that in order to live a complete life as a character, you need to be afforded a lot more latitude. In the same way that there is no perfect way to order a sandwhich (you may order it a thousand different ways, even if your motivation is the same) you realize that there is no perfect way to do the blocking, no perfect way to deliver a joke.

Straight theater can be really frustrating, especially when, for the sake of freedom and expression, your castmates or director start improvising shit that has nothing to do with the script. It’s a lot like people who believe they were Catherine the great in a past life, these actors want their characters to have fantastic storylines that they think will reveal some kind of truth. The number of times I’ve heard about a character’s relationship to their dad, which sounded suspiciously exactly like the actor’s, is beyond my ability to count. They keep journal entries, they take to wearing similar costumes in regular life, and they are unreliable to *deliver the lines that are written*.

I’m describing extremes here, but the theater world has, on one end, a group of micro-managing emotionally explosive musical lovers who quote the show “Fame” without realizing it, and on the other end you have a group of free-wheeling darkly brooding professional pretenders who sink into their characters so much that they ignore the scripts that their characters are based on.

Obviously, I don’t find myself at home with either group. I have a deep love of musicals, but I’m always surprised at how very little fun people are having in rehearsal. There is a sense that opening is impending doom, that one must have a perfected set of business and blocking in order to be prepared to go into the show, and every single run before opening has that desperate air of either proudly remembering every “bit”, or of feeling lost when left to your own devices.

But I have to say, I’m usually less at home in the casts of straight plays. A total hands off technique when it comes to lines and blocking, and I certainly feel, y’know, *respected*, but I don’t feel like the material is. The rehearsals are always confusing affairs for me, stretches of time playing children’s games and talking about scenes our characters might do that *aren’t* in the script.

It’s easy for me, I’m just a actor, I can talk as much shit as I want and go into every situation and say, “That’s not it, nope, that’s not it.” But I can also tell you that I’ve been in several plays in the last five years where the actual lines were the lines we all delivered, and we had a sense of when and where it would be best to enter and exit and when to cross, but we also had the freedom to play a moment, to use the audience and the other actors to shape a performance. There is some really nice common ground, that I have found when I work with directors that, to be fair, I have hand-picked.

I will say this, if I had to chose a side to fall on, I’d chose to quit. I enjoy the shows where there is no structure and the shows where there is a micro-managed veneer, but only as much as I enjoy a recording session or a writing session. It’s very rewarding and it’s better than digging ditches, but it doesn’t make me feel any more alive, and it’s an incredible amount of work for what amounts to very little pay. I have, unfortunately, set the bar at what is rewarding, and sometimes it’s just too high.

There is no “Right”

Friday, January 14th, 2005

I had to go to an audition yesterday where I had to strip down to my underwear. In the final commercial, the character I was trying out for would be completely naked, his critch pixelized. Naturally, this would be funny, if they’re calling in guys like me. Jordana mentioned that it would terrifically amusing for Ian if I got my first national commercial by being fat and funny.

The interesting thing it that I was at about the 30% mark for fatness in this room of guys. There were a couple of guys smaller than me, but almost everyone was huge-mongous. And everyone was shirtless.

I’ll say this, if they’re looking for body hair, I got everyone beat.

They probably aren’t looking for body hair.

The thing with auditioning is that you have to just decide that you are you, and they are either looking for you or they aren’t.

(Sorry, quick aside, there is no “thing” with auditioning, and no advice that anyone should ever take or give in this matter. There is nothing in the world so completely based on visceral reactions than casting, it’s a first second yes or no that stays with you, or maybe it’s a long thought out process, but there is no way to tell. As my agent said, “you could be third on everyone’s list and get cast, just because there is infighting and no-one wants anyone else to win”. It’s a ridiculous life.)

There are actors who compile as much information as they can and they try to mold themselves for an audition, which always struck me as strange because their performances are almost always just versions of themselves. I go into an audition and figure they aren’t gonna cast me anyway, but if they do I can start working with the director on creating the character once I’ve, y’know, *read the script*.

You want to be “right”, you want to be “good”. It’s interesting to me, this musical we are writing has had totally divergent reactions to it. Everyone who is a fan of musical theater, particularly anyone who has a love/hate relationship with old musicals, has loved the music we recorded and loves the ideas and humor in the book. My friends who are outside this world have been *silent* about the songs and the show. It’s the same silence usually reserved for other friends who make terrible movies or write awful songs.

But, there isn’t any “good” or “right”. I said the other day that I hate almost all the music I heard while in Chapel Hill, and I said it because I’ve thought it a thousand times. I would go hear live music and wish I was doing *anything* else. I *loathe* white boy funk, I *loathe* dirty guitar based southern rock, I *loathe* self referential inside jokes and sloppy edge-of-your-seat drumming.

But these things aren’t “bad”. I understand why people love the Chapel Hill scene. For me, there is a difference between the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Vernon Dalhart, and I just prefer Vernon Dalhart. I am uncomfortable with proud sloppiness, with bold diletantism, (and yes, I say that as a man who is writing a musical despite having no advanced degree in music composition) but I also understand that to someone else, it has an immediacy and an energy that the over-articulated pop, hip-hop or musicals songs don’t really have.

I do sometimes wish that there was a way all of these things could be discussed without it seeming like feelings will be hurt. Unfortunately, my own disregard of most people’s opinions is probably the first major problem with having a free flow of ideas. I’m extremely thin skinned, but I slip quickly from disagreement to disrespect, and that really sucks on my part.

I’m proud of the fact that there is some art that I like despite disliking the artist, and that I can generally separate my friends from the work they produce, but I have always found myself in the unfortunate position of disliking most of the people who like the same stuff I do. I have a punk-rock attraction to my friends and an uptight approach to music, all of which makes for strange bedfellows.

Some Pictures

Wednesday, January 12th, 2005

They don’t want us taking pictures of the subway, I understand that. I mean, I don’t understand that, but I understand that they don’t want us to. But this is one of the most breath-taking places in my daily journey to and from the city, and there’s only a little bit of subway involved.

This is the N platform, looking out over the Triboro

And, just one more because I wasn’t actually *in* the subway when I took it. I’m fascinated by the way the train sometimes looks like it’s carrying just heads, rows and rows of head wear, and they sometimes put up adverts that help with that look.

The girl in front is real

And, for all you New York theater types who are rehearsing a show right now, I thought I’d post a picture of the space where we’re rehearsing. It’s absurd.

You could fit three downtown theaters into this performance space

Crying Wolf

Wednesday, January 12th, 2005

Best to avoid this one. Don’t come crying to me if you don’t.

I don’t write this blog for you. That is, unless you are one of the people that I normally talk to or send email to. Those are the people I write the blog for. And I’m not writing it for them, I’m writing it so they can take a deep breath and deal with me when they want to, they don’t have to have me invading their inboxes with either sappy long winding anthems about how lovely and lucky I am or hateful missives about how cursed I am. I write it to fulfill my pathetic need for attention without imposing any of that on my loved ones. This is my blog, if you come here, you’re gonna get what you came for.

I’m writing at 1 in the morning. I’m doing this despite the hideous headache and the taste and feel of vomit in my back teeth. See, I made the mistake of eating Tai food at 7:45 tonight.

It may not seem like much, but that’s because it hasn’t been added to the laundry list of other things I have done wrong. I spent a couple of years smoking. I spent a couple of years eating more calories than I burned, and I’ve stored those calories by expanding my fat cells.

Huh. I guess it’s not so much a “laundry list” as it is, y’know, basically what everyone else in America has done. Except for the part where I actually quit smoking and spent two thousand two hundred dollars and countless hours in a gym trying to lose the weight, only to wake up one morning fatter than when I started. And then, I made the mistake of ordering and eating a standard portion of Tai food. Yeah, I smoked for a coupla years, I gained some weight, and then I ate dinner. Not everyone suffers much from having done these things, in fact it could be argued that most people treat their bodeis way worse than this, but, y’see, I’m fucking *delicate*.

I have made this mistake before. In fact, last night, when I hadn’t eaten dinner until about 10:00, I got a turkey sandwich and ate it. I knew I was running a risk, and sure enough, by about one in the morning, I was *actually vomitting*.

Yeah, see, I have GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. You might think you have it as well, but since it effects about 7 million Americans I doubt you’re right. The acid in my stomach kicks up in to my throat when I lie down, if there is too much of it. It’s like the cap that is supposed to sit on the top of my stomach is lose, and acid spills up unless I am sitting *all the fucking way up*. And food goes with it. Into my throat, back up into my mouth, bathing my esophegus and vocal cords in acid.

GERD isn’t just heartburn. GERD is when the sphincter to your esophagus doesn’t work to the point where your life is altered. Like, let’s say, it’s one in the morning, you got no sleep the night before because you were up all night vomitting, and now you have to sit upright in a chair with a pounding headache and vomit in your teeth, which you can’t brush out because you’re so naseous that putting a tooth brush in your mouth will make you vomit more.

And more good news. It’s ruins your ability to have any kind of stamina as a singer or a performer. I have been able to do plays largely because I am obsessive about controlling my voice. I’ve stopped going to clubs, I never listen to live music any more because I can’t risk trying to speak over the crowd. I went to a party two nights ago and had to leave at eleven because I had *lost my voice*. I’m a musician who can’t go see other bands perform, I’m a professional singer who loses my voice at the drop of a hat, I’m a guy who is essentially useless except as a party clown who has to leave every party the second the decibel level gets up to the point of “fun”.

I’m extremely careful, and my wife is stridently diligent. It’s a wonderful existence, looking at the clock, thinking “can I eat this potato chip, it is past 8 PM” and looking up and noticing that look of concern on her face. The concern is because I wake her up *VOMITTING* in the middle of the night, but after a lifetime of being the fat kid, it’s hard not to respond with hurt feelings when someone reminds you not to eat.

So, I’m careful. I quit smoking because my doctor told me it was making the reflux worse. (I’ve since found out that the weight I gained after I quit *definitely* made it worse and that the smoking had nothing really to do with it, but at least this way I’ll get cancer of the throat instead of the lungs. I’m sure there are lots of roles that call for one of those South Park Ned neck buzzers.

Y’know. Roles. For my acting career.)

I’m careful, I don’t eat after nine. I even find myself panicked about it, begging everyone to *get dinner now*, because I know if I don’t eat until later I’ll be puking all night. I know that pizza will make me sick no matter what, so any time there is pizza I try to eat before or wait until after. Or, y’know, have a couple of bites and then stay up all night vomitting.

There isn’t a single item, all day, that doesn’t get the once over before it gets eaten. Like a neurotic thick glassed-asthmar ridden nebish, I plan for the end of day meals first thing in the morning, figuring out when I can eat so that I’m not left at 8 PM, still hungry and waiting for a delivery boy or water to boil. 8 PM is too late for me. If I start digesting at 9:30, I’ll be vomitting by one.

That’s the other special wrinkle. I’m not sure if I’ve yet mentioned that I vomit when the reflux hits, but, yeah, I puke. Never in one flash sitting, the way you might when you are actually poisoned. It usually takes three visits to the puker, about every forty five minutes. I puke out whatever is in my throat, go lie down, wait for it to fill up again, puke that out, start over. Three is the average, which, right, do the math, is about two and a half hours. Starting at about one in the morning.

So, I’ve learned. It’s a capricious ailment, there is no way to control it. If your Tai food comes at 7:30 and you’re done eating by 8:10, you might be fine, but there’s probably enough fat in it to drive your acid production through the roof. So, if you’re like me, you have some choices to make. If you are disoriented and exhausted from the rounds of puking you did the night before, you will keep gagging on your vomit, occasionally throwing up into a tee-shirt or something by the bed and convince yourself that *that* should be enough, you can sleep now, only to have it repeat on you the second you slide down off your six stacked pillows.

So, you’ve got a decision to make. Are you going to go to the bathroom and spend half an hour making yourself puke up everything in your system, or are you going to find some place to sit all the way up? Because those are your only options. I’ve spent night after night with a finger half way down my throat, praying that I could get all the food out of my body in enough time to have five hours of sleep. And I’ve woken up, gagging, laying sideways on a couch that I thought I would stay awake on.

But, don’t think that, just because I’m vomitting all night, that I’m gonna sleep in tomorrow. Tomorrow might be the day. Opportunity will knock on my door some morning, and I don’t dare be in bed when it happens. I’ve sent out headshots, I’ve layed the seeds, I’ve put my best foot forward with a shine on my shoes and a melody in my heart and I don’t dare sleep in for fear of missing it when my big break comes along. Tomorrow will almost definitely be like all the other days, days where success is measured by headshots mailed and phone calls placed and quarter notes written rather than anything coming to any kind of actual fruition. But there is a tiny chance that tomorrow will be different, and that the difference might be better. And, when a contract is mailed to me or a phone call comes my way, or those quarter notes become a song, you, my faithful blog slogger, will be the first to know. There is almost no chance that tomorrow will be better, but that tiny sliver of doubt is the only thing I have, and if I sleep through it, I will never forgive myself.

For now, I sit up, in my chair, sipping water to remind my peristalsis that it should be heading ass-wards and pray for sleep.


Tuesday, January 11th, 2005

Good grief, it is just horrible outside right now.

In New York, you get days like today in January, there’s just no way around it. Wait, let me try to take a picture…

Yeah, you can’t really tell.

I’ve said before that I have been told that only poets and madmen take the weather personally, but let me see if I can put my finger on what it is about this weather that is so frickin’ horrible. It is cold, but it isn’t kill-you cold, it isn’t the kind of cold that creates any real *drama*. It’s not like I can say, “Oh, shit today is *terrible*” without some asshole (probably you) writing me and saying “There are mudslides and tsunamis, you jerk, you can’t handle a little frozen rain?”

Yes, for the record, I can handle it, and I know that my west coast friends are having it tough, but this weather is worse to me because it is *boring*. *It* is boring, and it makes the rest of my life boring. It doesn’t inspre a cuddle by the fire because, of course, in weather like this it is worse looking than it actually feels, so every building is heated to a cozy 87 degrees, including our apartment. It’s thirty eight degrees outside, and I have mushrooms growing under my window sills.

But, you have to go outside on a day like this because if you don’t you can actually hear the sound of your muscles turning into fat whistling in the silent moist hot freezing rooms of your apartment. Going outside isn’t simply that, however. You have to put on your seven layers of clothes, despite the fact that even two layers makes you uncomfortable in the swampy heat of the apartment. Each shirt and sweater is designed to either go over your body or one layer, and you have to convince it that it’s got to stretch over two, three, sometimes four layers, so that inhalation changes from an involuntary to a labored muscle movement and the inside two layers are immediately soaked in sweat from the heat.

But when you go outside, you are confronted by what the weatherfolk call “freezing rain” but which we in New York know to be “thawing rain”. Sure, it was frozen, right up to about ten seconds before it hits you, but during that time it has warmed to about 36 degrees, ready to become completely liquid and roll down the curve of the back of your ear, slide behind your scarf and travel the length of your neck before hitting the collar of your jacket. Once the thawing rain hits your jacket, it’s released as steam back up toward your glasses.

Even worse is that all of the thawed rain gets trapped in your jacket. Each step and your clothes weigh more, there’s more mud on the cuff of your pants, there’s less possibility for movement. It’s like your jacket is a whale and the moisture in the air is plankton and you’re just coffee-flitering your way down the street, getting mustier and heavier and sweatier as your pant legs refreeze for some reason and rub against the chicken skin on your thighs. You can actually smell your own exertion from inside your well-named sweater, but your legs are chafing against your dungarees.

If it was eleven degrees, then at least you’d be fighting for your life, if it was 46 and sunny, you’d wear a jacket and it would feel “brisk”. But 37 and freezing rain… With Mac’s permission, I’m gonna quote my favorite play. This is one character describing February 1998 in New York.

The city seemed… unearthly, all “Blade Runner” and shiny in the downpour. Like mercury, these thin, viscous, silver stabs of ice all down my back and down my chest. I felt like they must be freezing onto me, imprinting on me permanently, like if I looked under my shirt later I would see this living silver map all over me, forgotten countries and lost seas, “Here there be dragons.”

Arrest Me

Friday, January 7th, 2005

Here’s a little something for my family, and for you, my blog reader.

It is in answer to this

It was freezing in the subway, this guy had no shoes.

This was the picture he let me take after I gave him five dollars. He then ignored me.

This is who you’re lookin’ for

Too Wet

Friday, January 7th, 2005

When I auditioned for Hamlet when I was 27, I had yet to remove my recording experience from my resume. The director told me at the callback “It looks like you’ve spent more time in a studio than you have on stage”. Despite the fact that it’s probably true, I’ve learned a hell of a lot less while recording than I have while acting. I have an entire rant that I want to call “On Storytelling”, but, to be perfectly honest, I’m so dissatisfied right now with aspects of my acting life that I don’t dare say anything out loud.

In the studio, I’ve learned quite a bit, but nowhere near enough to be of any use. When I have struggled for work, lots of people have said, “Why don’t you call all the local studios and see if they’re hiring?” Which is sort of akin to, “You are a great clarinet player, why don’t you call the symphony hall and find out if they need help hanging lights?”

There is a continuum in the art world. On the one end, there are the gear head nerds and on the other there are the lone-gunmen crazies.

The gear head nerds have a hundred magazine subscriptions and they have a collection of, for lack of a better term, equipment. Cables and buttons and the newest little box that alters sounds in microcosmic ways. These guys are best suited either to percussion or engineering, and they are capable of incredible magic when it comes to editing and polishing. They are like 120 grit sandpaper. If you go into one of these guys’ kitchens, you would find eleven different sizes of souflee pans.

The lone-gunmen crazies have apartments covered in paper and hands covered in ink. They haven’t figured out the computer, or if they have they just play everything in live and they bring in scores with flute lines that have 29 32nd notes tied together for rhythm. They have an ability to create macrocosmic beauty, great melody lines and fantastic interpretation, drifting often from what’s written to something even better. These guys are best suited to composition and opera singing. I wouldn’t go into these guys’ kitchens, but if you do, you’d find a stack of unused pans and a single sandwich plate, used over and over and never washed.

Most of us are somewhere in between. I can hang for the preliminary gear head talk, but after about two minutes I’ve reached the end of what I know, and after five I’ve reached the end of what I can understand. The only magic I can claim responsibility for is getting a gear head behind the console and a lone-gunman in the studio and then playing to each of their strengths. It does no good to tell the gear head that you want to record the entire phrase, he’s gonna try to grab the one out-of-tune note, and it does no good to tell the lone gunman to sing that one note better, you have to tell them what to feel and hope it translates.

The one place where everyone comes together is reverb. Once you record something, you “throw a little reverb on it.”

Reverb is short for reverberation, it’s the sound that bounces back of hard walls in large halls, like a tiny short echo. Something magical happens when you throw on reverb, suddenly everything you recorded has breathing room, a little space. Without it, you get the sense that someone is singing right next to your head, it feels invasive, but with it, you actually get the sense that there are other people around you breathing and listening. It’s bizzarre.

Creating reverb has it’s own amazing history. It used to be that everyone used “plate reverb” which is, I’ve been told, a giant metal plate, five feet by ten feet, suspended in a room. The shoot a sound signal through the plate and then pickups (just like on a guitar) convert the sound back to an electronic signal. There are dampers on the plate to control how much reverb there is. These are obviously way too big for regular guitar amps, so they accomplish the same thing using springs instead of plates.

There is also digital reverb, or DSP (I’m guessing digital signal psomething or other), which uses algorithms and charts and gear head-y stuff to invent reverb that sounds natural. On the other end of the scale is “Chamber Reverb” wherein, you’re gonna love this, they put a speaker in a very large room and a microphone on the other end and just record the room buzzing.

(The last reminds me of one time, being in the studio with a percussionist friend of mine. After bringing in six fifty pound sacks of different sized instruments, each with its own unique variation on the wood block, he was asked if he had anything that sounded like a rock being dropped (for a song called “Stone Pounding”). He thought for a minute, said he’d be right back and went back to his truck. He came back with two rocks from the driveway and hit them together. Sure enough, they sounded exactly like two rocks being hit together…)

Almost all reverb today is digital, which is a shame because much of it isn’t any good. No-one has room for the giant reverb chambers or suspended plates anymore. I heard that the entire basement of the Capitol building was once a reverb chamber, but they turned it into parking once DSP was invented. It really is a shame, because it’s damn near impossible to get that same great sound. I’ve had the good fortune to work in one studio where they still had the plate reverb, and it was glorious.

The digital reverb has the effect, usually, of sounding like reverb instead of giving you the unsettling aspect of space. A good reverb will make you feel something, bad reverb makes you hear something. Of course, once you train your ears to hear every stinkin’ thing that happens it’s hard to lean back and let a sound make you feel something.

Each studio, and each engineer, has a certain amount of “wetness” that they like, and it’s very telling that everyone refers to it as a liquid. If you say, “are we listening to this dry?”, you mean the recorded tracks with no reverb, and if you say, “it feels damp,” you may get a look, but any engineer would know what you mean.

And that’s the thing. If I’m looking for work, just because I know what types of reverb there are doesn’t mean I know which button to push in order to make it happen. Shit, anymore I couldn’t even pull up the songs if someone handed me a hard drive. I shouldn’t even say “anymore”, if someone brought in a two inch reel, I’d have no idea how to string it through the player.

So, yeah, I’d like to be able to talk to a local studio and ask for work, but I’m so much closer to the lone gunman (despite my number of souflee pans) than I am to the gear head, so I’m going to have to just focus on my madness and hope it all comes together somewhere down the line.