Archive for March, 2006


Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

It isn’t like a fetish or anything. Mostly, I think it’s just the best way to tell what sort of person you are dealing with. During the casting of Fleet Week, once everyone had been offered jobs and had accepted them, the director and I were talking about which of the actors playing gay roles might actually be gay, and one of them we thought for sure wasn’t because of his shoes. We were right.

I’ve always loved shoes, and I’ve always sort of hated women’s shoes. They don’t make any sense to me, the heel, the straps, they just look awful. To tell the truth, I don’t really like women’s clothes very much. Historically, I’ve always thought that women who took men’s clothes and made them their own were so much more beautiful. My wife, of course, wears men’s clothes better than anyone I know, but my sisters, Michelle and Tessa, have made it incredibly elegant. Tessa and I shared a surprise party for our birthdays some five years ago, and Tessa happened to be wearing an oversized sweater with a hole in one shoulder, and, honestly, she made it look like nicer than a ball gown.

Anyway, back to shoes. My closet has as many shoes as it does shirts. The shoes I’m wearing right now…

… are Hush Puppies, and I bought them as much for the fact that they look like little kid shoes as for the name. My favorite shoes ever ar these Timberlands, which used to be Carolina Blue when I bought them, but two home renovations and countless snowstorms have left them thus…

You’ve got to have shoes for whatever function is required of you, sure, but they should also match whatever costume you’re wearing. Yesterday, it was warming up enough to wear my leather jacket, and as I was grabbing a hat, I decided to change my shoes. Because, you can’t wear a black leather jacket unless you’re sorta trying to look like a Queens goombah, and so I grabbed my Coast Guard baseball cap and changed into brown leather zip-ups.

I really think you should have some stuff on hand, just for having fun with. I know that you’re supposed to throw out anything you don’t wear in 18 months, or something, but instead I’ve just given away every pair of shoes that no longer fits, or if I haven’t worn them in three or four years. Shoes are supposed to be with you a lot longer than, say, socks.

Don’t get me started on socks.

Plus, how could you throw away any of these?

And even these shoes, which I’ve only left the house in *once*, are still really fun to wear around the house.

…and if you don’t have some good house shoes, what’s the point in even having feet? If I couldn’t have fun shoes, just for wearing indoors, I might seriously consider having my legs removed mid-shin. Jordana could carry me around, and when she got tired of doing that, she could call my friend Mac over to carry me around. Withouth the lower half of my lower leg, I probably wouldn’t weigh that much. And without shoes? Come on, shoes weigh, like, twenty pounds.

Which is why we like the strong wooden shoe rack…

… to hold our most hilarious shoes. I know those white ones look pretty reasonable, but man, you have to be *very* careful about your sock collection. Some shoes aren’t as awesome as you might think until you consider the sock options.

But as I said, I’m not gonna talk about socks.

Except to say that these two new pairs of shoes I got…

… have their own sock considerations. First, the red shoes, which work great with white socks, but imagine them with BLUE! Or GREEN! And the other pair, which are *AWESOME*, only just fit my feet in regular socks, but then I remembered that I would probably be wearing them with nice thin socks, so I bought them anyway. A grand total of about $40 for two pairs of shoes, because DSW gots what I needs.

And no, I don’t have a problem. I like shoes.

Blind and Sided

Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

I have a lot of friends in New York who write and produce plays. By which I mean, of course, tangential friends, guys and gals who are about three steps removed from me, but who I still consider to be within my framework of friends. I can’t call Joe Brooks from “In My Life”, but I could call up the artistic director of UCB and, if I made that call, we’d get drunk together. Except I don’t, and he doesn’t, because neither of us has the time.

Before people started producing stuff, people did a lot of talking. I’ve gotten back in touch with an old friend from my first college (of four) and the one thing I remember most clearly about him was his willingness to call us on our shit-talking. “I could fuckin’ play that role ten times better than he could,” someone would say, and Carlos would say, “then go audition and get it away from him. You sit here talking, that guy is practicing his audition pieces…”

It’s a definite leap from small town politics (which essentially College is) to big time New York Loser Off Off, but there’s still a fair amount of talking. We all like to talk about our plays, we like to talk about one another’s plays, mostly we like to talk about how much we hate certain plays and how much we like others. It’s a big shit-talking circle, where we sorta jerk off on the work of our dear friends and we crap on the work of people who have earned what we feel is undeserved praise.

But, since all of this is happening at $5,000 shots and people aren’t, y’know, starving to death or killing their careers, we can afford to be obnoxious. And it’s fun, I wish there was a lot more of it. I wish I could see more shows and then hang out with the people who made them and talk shit. I wish I saw more plays I hated with more people so we could rag on them afterwards. Fifteen bucks and a coupla hours is reasonable for a vitriol filled diatribe on my blog.

The problem is, every once in a while, someone tries for more. And suddenly, the schadenfreude becomes no fun.

In the city, there is Off Off Broadway, and there are some legal reasons for that title, it isn’t just a jokey-joke thing, What it means is that the house has less than 100 seats, you spend less than 15 grand, you usually work either outside the union or just on the periphery of the union, the runs are short, the houses are small, the ideas and artistry are usually wildly eratic, with crappy costumes and sets but great scripts and acting (or sometimes vice versa) and a handful of reviews if you are really lucky.

Then, there is Off-Broadway, and this is what most of the theater in New York is. There are only a handful of Broadway houses, and most of the Off-Off houses are converted store fronts or office buildings. The Off-Broadway houses are the 300 seat houses, the Lucille Lortel, the Roundabout theater company, the theaters downtown where you would have seen the original Rent or the latest Caryl Churchill.

These shows are a quarter million-half million, sometimes a million dollar shows. These are the shows with majestic incredible sets, perfect period costumes, and actors that you know you’ve seen before and who you never knew were this good. Henry Czerny and Jennifer Jason Leigh, Altar Boyz and The Blue Man Group, these are all Off-Broadway. These are famous people and famous shows.

Broadway, The Great White Way, isn’t something we can even deal with anymore. It’s Clear Channel and Viacom and Disney, multinational corporations that have billions and billions of dollars that make as much money keeping their branding alive and selling coffee cups as they do ticket sales, which are usually more than a hundred dollars each.

So, Off-Broadway is the real brass ring for New York theaters. And the great leap between off-off and OFF is a leap almost too large to imagine. If I raise 50 thousand dollars and I am really careful, I can produce plays off-off Broadway for the next ten years. I would eventually run out of money, but I could do three plays a year for ten years, small cast, small house, and lose a little bit of money every time.

If I had 50 thousand dollars, it would be seed money to raise five times that amount for an Off-Broadway run. Of one show. And the money will be lost unless it makes enough noise and critical praise to move or tour.

So, essentially, the off-off route is a machine gun. Just keep producing, keep your finger on the trigger, if the show you’re doing now is good, then learn what you can, the next one will be better, but just keep firing into the city and see if, by some miracle, you slay the dragon. The OFF-Broadway route is the sniper, get all the money you will ever hope to raise through the history of your entire life, pick a script, aim between the eyes and shoot.

When you have a failure at the off-off level, we can all laugh. What a terrible play! Six months ago, you guys did that great thing, but MAN I hated this! When you fail at the Off-Broadway level, that kind of devestation is impossible to imagine.

But you get props in my book for trying, for committing to a thing that you truly thought would work. I’ve never had that much nerve, I’m always assuming that this little thing I’m working on here is the thing that will make the next thing easier, for you to believe that there is one script that will set the world on fire… that’s a real inspiration. That takes a dedication and the intestinal fortitude… I mean it takes balls, and, as of yet, I don’t have balls that big.

There is no joy in someone you know shooting the moon and missing. It’s just awful. Yes, a rising tide raises all ships, so having a friend with an Off-Broadway hit would be great, but it isn’t just that. We’re telling smaller, weirder stories in the off-off world, we’re giving the world a twitchy quirky view. And then, when we get the chance, when we know the world is actually listening, sometimes we blanche, sometimes we’re bold, but always we feel relegated. We feel like there is an us and a them, and as soon as one of us is heard, them are gonna stop us from getting anywhere.

In the last 12 months, two shows that I know people in (in a producerial capacity) have made their bold move to Off-Broadway, and both have been savaged by the critics. In both cases, I feel nothing but sorrow for them. When my friends put on the most boring version of 12th Night ever seen, then I can rant and laugh about it, but when people lose a half million dollars trying to tell a story, it’s nothing but awful.

Three Weeks Gone

Tuesday, March 21st, 2006

I suppose, in a way, I’m hoping people will stop checking the blog so I can just write stuff for me to read later in my life. Which defeats the purpose of a blog, I guess, since I could just as easily keep a journal.

I remember a night almost twenty years ago now. It was the summer of ’87, and we were at a girl named Jessica’s house, and we were drinking vodka and playing music. It was nearing the end of the summer, and my two best friends were going away to college, away being to Rutgers and, I think, Parsons School of Design, but since I was moving to Los Angeles, we all knew we were on borrowed time.

These two guys, Chris and Chris, it turns out, had been through a lot of shit with me. I had slept with both of their girlfriends, they had both hooked up with my sister, we, all three of us, had driven a stolen Mercedes at 115 MPH just to see what it would feel like, and we had stood on the rocks at the edge of the Atlantic ocean at four something in the morning and, during a lull in the conversation, happened to all three be looking up when the nipple of the sun popped up over the water. I taught Chris C. the trick of barfing so you can drink more beer, Chris C. taught me that when people are annoyed by your shit-talking, don’t stop, just keep going until you get over the hump and Chris B. taught me to listen to the drum line.

I’m sure this all seems pretty pedestrian romanticizing, I can’t imagine that anyone looks back on being 17 without a wisp of regret or yearning. Let me say for the record that, as much as I might have loved to be 17 in 87, the miracle of listening to my wife sleep almost silently with her nose in my neck is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and if I have to have bum knees and bad eye-sight for the rest of my life, I’d still rather be me, here, now, then me, there, then.

But we were at Jessica’s and, as usual, the days and nights were spinning by me in a blur. That night we had sacked Jessica’s house as if we were hippy vikings, all of us dirty and drunk and singing songs too loud. I have no idea where anyone’s parents were, in the 80s in New Jersey, nobody seemed to have parents. We had been playing “The Way I Walk” by the Cramps, Michelle was there, with some guy five years older than her trying to get her drunker, and Jessica and I were in the middle of our every-half-hour, on-again-off-again year long affair, and this half hour, she was interested in losing her virginity.

We were in her room, I remember between the two of us I was wearing the only pair of jeans, and Chris B. walked in. He apologized, said he was leaving, said he loved me and that he’s see me when I came back out to visit. He was leaving for New York the next morning. I got up to hug him, and he left the room before I could. It occurs to me that my getting up may have left Jessica in an indelicate circumstance, and, of course, I didn’t realize it at the time. I only just realized it right now, 18 and a half years later.

I sat with Chris in his car. We talked for two hours outside the house, smoking rolled cigarettes. He kept saying that we were all about to change, and it wasn’t just California and Rutgers, that we were all about to lose something. I remember clearly, he said he felt like we were at a moment, adrift for the only time American youth was going to be adrift. He could be hilarious, but also MASSIVELY introspective, and this was one of those times. He fancied himself an old wise man, even though he was barely 18, so he was always going on long-winded pronouncements, but I was ALWAYS a willing audience. I loved him deeply, even when I disagreed with him completely.

He said that we were the court jesters of American history, that we were here for the one time when the whole thing will be funny. I remember him emphasizing that, that the late 80s was gonna be the most hilarious and ridiculous time to be disaffected youth, or to be youth that, like us, cared a lot about a lot of things. He sat in the car mocking our politics, mocking our concept of free love, mocking us for going to a peace rally in DC only three months earlier, which we had. I don’t remember what peace we were fighting for in ’87, but we went to DC to do it.

At a certain point, I become horribly aware that he was sorta crying, and this was not the kind of thing that we did. I mean, we were hippies, we were dirty and drunk, but we were still teenage guys, for chrissake. He wasn’t sobbing, I just saw that, in the middle of tearing through his diatribe, his eyes were leaking. I guess I should say ripping through his diatribe. Damn homomorphs.

The funny thing about the whole evening is… Well, the funniest thing about the whole evening is that in the middle of something he was saying, he started coughing like a cat, reached back into his molars and brought out a pubic hair. But the strangest thing about the evening is that, if I could go back, I would certainly want to go back and apologize to Jessica. This wasn’t the first time I’d treated her like shit, I basically treated every single girl I knew like shit.

I’ve changed since then, but I have changed through a series of brutal attacks that I’ve either engineered or endured. That sweet girl was really a wonderful person, a good friend to me who always seemed to adore me. She had a scar running down the middle of her chest from when she was a baby, she had heart surgery and nearly died, and she had bad circulation still when she was a teenager. Man, I wish I could say something to her that would make her not currently affected by my bad behavior.

I don’t know. I’ve been dwelling a lot on the kind of damage we do to one another. I start telling a story like this, and I can see everyone reading it rolling their eyes, thinking “yeah, Sean, you were a fucking ROCKSTAR… asshole.” But it isn’t like that. I look back on most of my behavior from 1984 through 1998 and I’m not really proud of anything. All I remember is the asshole part, and the part where I THOUGHT I was a rockstar.

I was horrible, and it took me listening to the people who liked me for the buried kernels of goodness to get half way between asshole and awesome. And I know it’s probably generous to say half-way, but I think this half-way is as good as I can do right now.


Wednesday, March 1st, 2006

God, this blog is a drag. I’m sure Ian’s is worse, having to write in it every single day, late at night, trying to do that dance you have to where you say something funny, fun and cutting enough to make it interesting to other people, but not honest enough to hurt anyone’s feelings. Once a week would be a drag, every day it’s really amazing that anyone can keep a blog interesting, unless they’re going to the polar ice caps or shooting a movie or something.

Well, we’re making plays, so I guess that’s kind of interesting. One thing about this show that’s somewhat different than the last few, is that I’m writing rock and pop music. I’ve said before that it’s a bit like writing haiku, that pop and rock require a musical simplicity that makes it really hard for you to fall back on anything too tricky. I have the feeling that the music director of my last show had some disdain for the music I wrote, having been an Ivy League type, but the stuff I’m writing now defies mockery in a way because rock music is as much about attitude as it is about musicality.

The fact of the matter is that no matter how carefully you say you listen to music, no matter how big a fan you say you are, chances are you are listening to music while also doing something else. It could be you’re driving, could be you’re walking to the subway, maybe you’re even facing the stage and drinking a beer, but, I mean, you are facing the stage and drinking a beer. You aren’t sitting silently in a chair that’s an inch too small in every direction, the way you are in the theater.

That’s why rock music requires much more repitition and much more of a groove. You are supposed to be dancing, drinking, whatever… *doing* something to this music. Hilariously, you are supposed to be air guitaring, that’s what rock music is. It’s designed to make guys pretend to play guitar and girls to lift their shirts.

So, take those rules and apply them to the theater, and you get a weird hybrid. When you look at the great rock operas, early Andrew Lloyd Weber is the first guy that jumps to mind, since Evita and Superstar both have a fair amount of rock in them. But both shows, you are in a position of listening to rock music sung by characters who are trying to develop the plot and reveal themselves, and in both cases you are left with holes.

Judas sings “just don’t say I’m damned for all time” and that’s a fine sentiment, except that, since you have to follow the groove of the song, Judas sings “Just don’t/Say I’m” and then he’s left for a moment to figure out a gesture or a facial tick before he sings “Damned for/All time”.

So then you get something like Rent, which is perhaps the best rock (Pop, actually) opera of them all. Yes, almost every song sung by Roger is bad, but Larson manages to balance the repeated rock refrains really well. Mimi sings “take me out tonight” several times… but of course she does, she’s begging, convincing, harrassing Roger. Tom Collins sings his song about Santa Fe, but the repeat contains tiny changes in the lyrics. When the ladies sing “Take Me For What I Am”, it’s repeated, the way rock songs should be, but, again, they’re fighting, convincing, harrassing, of course they’re gonna repeat themselves.

Switch to non-theatrical rock music, something like Jane’s Addiction or Tom Petty, and you’ll see that it’s impossible for a character to follow the repeats. “And I walk right/ Through the door./ I walk right through the door”, sure you could theatricalize it… “And I’m Free/Free Fallin’.”… It’s just that you don’t have a reason for people to repeat themselves that often. You could give these lines to characters, or you could even change the lyrics to something more active and keep the tunes… but it wouldn’t be very good. It really wouldn’t.

Because rock and pop songs are meant to be sung along to, danced to, drunk to… honestly, you’re supposed to be fuckin’ when you play Led Zeppelin Four…

(Although that joke is ruined in Fast Times since he’s told to play Zeppelin Four, and then you have a jump cut to them in the car where he’s clearly playing “Houses Of The Holy”, which, for Cameron Crowe, must have felt like getting kicked in the gut)

When Foreigner’s Dirty White Boy is playing, you are supposed to be undoing the front snap of a girl’s bra in the leaned back passenger seat of your Iroq Z. So, making a show with nothing but rock music is, actually, a mistake. But making a show about Air Guitar without rock music is also a mistake.

So, I’m straddling a little. Air Guitar music is mostly from the 80s, and there is really good guitar music from the 80s that isn’t hair band music. Robert Smith of The Cure is actually a phenomenal guitarist, The Edge is amazing, Johnny Marr is incredible, etc… And the fact is, you could turn The Smiths music into a musical without changing a note. Now, I can start out writing an homage to one or the other of these bands (included in the list is, of course, Duran Duran (who wrote incredible, bizarre songs with really sophisticated swirling chord progressions, they just wrote lyrics that were barely English) and The Violent Femmes (who’s music was really simple, but as lyrically driven as Sondheim)) (I think I got lost on the parenthesis tip, bare with me) but it’s impossible for me to copy them. I’m just not competent enough.

What I end up with is music inspired by the music of my childhood. I have always loathed doo-wop, I absolutely hate girl groups from the 60s, and I’m sure that children now will retch if they have to hear “Come On Eileen” or “Tainted Love” or “Shake It Up” or “Wanted, Dead or Alive” one more time, and little Lyra and Lucy and Jackson (and now HENRY LAMBERT!!! ONE WEEK OLD TODAY!!!) will be bored to tears by Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Two Princes by the Spin Doctors (who are we kidding, we already hate Pearl Jam and The Spin Doctors), but “William It Was Really Nothing” and “The Chauffeur” and “Life In A Northern Town” (shut up, I like that song)(okay, that song sucks, but I still like it)(OKAY, you’re right, I don’t actually like it, I just remember discovering oral sex while it was on the radio…) will always have a spot in my heart.

I hope what will be recognized, in the end, is that the music in this show is a love song to our junior high days, the same way that Fleet Week was a love song to old school musicals. I mean, who am I kidding, people felt the need to point out the height difference between The Statue Of Liberty and The Captain in Fleet Week, no-one is gonna recognize anything… but I hope that people will be able to tell what I’m trying to do.

And of course, what I’m doing instead of actually writing the music, is writing in this goddam blog.