Friday, February 29, 2008

My Voice on a Steely Dan Album

During my daily workouts, while I'm ellipticalling (or whatever one calls walking/jogging/stairclimbing/pumping on the so-called elliptical machine), I often listen to my favorite Steely Dan album, Alive in America, the live album of their tour umpteen years ago (1993-94) when they proved 1) they weren't dead yet, and 2) that they were not just a studio band (actually, they had toured in the early days and still do, but it became a legendary truism that "Steely Dan never tours").

They visited the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre in The OC, and I snapped up a couple of tickets for us as quickly as they went on sale. There's just something about their music I've always connected with, and I was screaming my lungs out with cheers at this outdoor concert venue when they performed, particularly on their hi-test version of "Bodhisattva."

Like many live albums, Alive in America is peppered with the crowd's reactions--at the beginning of a song, when the sneaky intro gives way to a few recognizable bars and sends the audience into paroxysms of joy, and at the end, to reward the band for besting the concertgoers' embedded memories of the tune.

At the end of "Bodhisattva," I am thoroughly convinced after many listenings and won't be dissuaded otherwise, my own "whoo-hoo" cheer during a nanosecond lull in the other cheers, can be distinctly heard on this album, digitized for posterity.*

Until next time...


*(Alas, according to their notes on, the album's "Bodhisattva" was recorded at a concert in Detroit. So what! That doesn't prove a thing. I know they mixed it with the Irvine concert crowd response.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pleonastic & Sesquipedalian

Don't you love it when you learn a new word?

Perhaps you already knew what "pleonastic" or "sesquipedalian" mean, but I didn't until I read the New York Times obituary of William F. Buckley this afternoon.

(But of course, you say! Now I know what they mean! Context is everything!)

Like my mother (and probably your mother) said: go look them up.

Until next time...


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hello, Goodbye, Thank You and *$&#^@

I learned to read at a younger than usual age (for that time, at least), and when I was still a child we moved for a couple of years to Morocco, where I learned to speak French (how fluently at age 7 is questionable). Instantly, my mother declared that I was a whiz at languages. I then learned enough Hebrew for my bar mitzvah. A year later I took German for one year from a stunning German blonde emigre I fell in love with. Then we moved to a place where the schools didn't offer German--and I was told I had already fulfilled my entire language requirement for graduation so I stopped learning a foreign language. Before entering college, I spent several weeks in a Hebrew "ulpan" (intensive language course) and continued studying that language for a couple of years, never becoming fluent but achieving slightly more proficiency with it than my supposed fluency in French (tell that to the French people I tried speaking with last time I was there).

Of course, I've had the chance to visit a number of foreign countries and to familiarize myself with the basic tourist phrases you should say prior to lapsing into English and expecting them to understand you. Hello, please, thank you, goodbye, toilet, etc. Never more than a handful of words, of course (though it's always practical but depressing to discover how many English words are used in other tongues these days).

Twenty years ago, the International Theatre Institute of the U.S. sent me to Seoul, Korea for some research and exchange purposes. I'll save the long version of the story for another post (or series of posts). But one night, I was taken out on the town by some Korean theatre artists, and by the end of the night (and after a few drinks, I'll admit), I insisted that they teach me a dirty word in Korean--but that it should be only one word, the worst possible word, since it was unlikely I could remember several. After great deliberation, they taught me that word. Upon my return, I was talking with a Korean-American playwright I knew and telling her this story. "There are no dirty words in Korean," she said. I then spoke the word I had learned. "Except that one," she replied.

As a result, one of my great ambitions became to learn one dirty word in every language I encounter. I don't exactly apply myself diligently to this endeavor, so I haven't amassed a voluminous collection of foul language. But there's no denying that knowing one can be as essential a tool to the foreign visitor as any of the other phrasebook words we memorize before our trips.

Until next time...


Friday, February 22, 2008

Faceless on Facebook

Back in the summer, someone convinced me that I really needed to sign up on MySpace. Eventually I did. Then someone else told me that MySpace is "so last year," and that Facebook is where it's really at. Eventually I signed up for Facebook.

I hardly gave a thought to either after the initial process of signing up, until recently--for reasons I'm not really sure of.

Anyway, I began to figure out some of its features and to search for and discover that some people I know are on it, too. So, over the past few days, I've wrangled up a whopping 22 "friends", all marked by "avatars" on my Facebook "friends list." (Avatars are icons representing a person or group, usually that person's photograph.)

But my book of faces has one friend who is, well, faceless. On Facebook, that means the avatar is a big calligraphic question mark. Interestingly, my faceless friend is someone I have never met personally and know only from the Trip Advisor Israel Forum as a regular fellow contributor. Perhaps one day I will see what she looks like!

Oh, and I've posted some favorite recent photos on my Facebook page--but the only way you'll ever get a chance to see them is if you are a Facebook member and invite me to be your friend.

I guess I'll be waiting, but I won't hold my breath!

Until next time...


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Is America A Dumb Blonde?

Today's New York Times has a review of Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason.

The article begins by talking about a YouTube clip featuring Kellie Pickler on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

Based on the Times review, it sounds like Jacoby is both rehashing long-standing criticism of America's anti-intellectualism and suggesting that there's a particularly venal convergence of it right now with the rise of religious anti-rationalism. And she's as critical of the left as of the right for their respective roles in exacerbating the situation.

America's archetypal dumb blonde, Marilyn Monroe, was really a lot smarter than her roles or image would suggest, but Kellie Pickler is no Marilyn Monroe.

Until next time...


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"The Meet Cute is a Rom-Com Staple"

This morning, in a theatre review, I had a meet cute with "meet cute," that ubiquitous jargon term of screenwriters pitching their wares to producers.

Actually, I'm lying...I first encountered the term about ten years ago when producing a play called "Who's Hot, Who's Not," by Sherwood Kiraly, adapted from his book by the same name. "Meet cute" is discussed by two of the characters in the play who, as I vaguely recall, have just met cute. (This play, by the way, is about the editor of a gossip magazine by the same title, whose only joy on the job is having secured his publisher's permission to write a last page column called "Where Are They Now?" about people who once were hot, like his own personal favorite, Clu Gulager.)

Wikipedia has an entire entry devoted to "meet cute" and I picked up the title of this post from another blogger's entry on the subject--now, I'll never be able to think of "romantic comedies" as anything but "rom-coms," I'm afraid.

I suppose that, in honor of Valentine's Day, it's also entirely appropriate for me to mention that Alison and I met cute--and we've been married 26 years.

If that ain't a "rom-com," what is?

Until next time...


Friday, February 8, 2008

Lowbrow Guilty Pleasures

In light of my recent posts about the New York Times's Bernard Holland encouraging audiences to lighten up while admonishing musicians to tighten up, and about the Wall Street Journal's piece on lowbrow subsidizing highbrow, I got a real kick out of reading this morning's Times oleo charting their music critics' guilty pleasures. Anthony Tomassini declares his fondness for slumming with Leroy Anderson--anyone who is familiar with his music is sure to agree how much fun it is to listen to, and how much of a virtuoso he was.

But, boy, on the Letters to the Editor page, Holland takes a beating for beating up on musicians showing any hint of emotion when performing.

To quote Ricky Gervais on "Extras": "Are you havin' a laugh?"

Until next time...


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Act now

I just mentioned the other day in a post here that the National Endowment for the Arts experienced its first significant increase in budget in many years (still below the pre-"arts wars" level, though).

Well, days afterward, President Bush presented a FY2009 budget in which not only is almost all of that increase taken back but draconian cuts to public broadcasting are proposed as well.

I won't go into the wastefulness of the Bush administration in so many other areas.

Suffice it to say that arts & public broadcasting lovers need to act now and communicate their support for funding these valuable assets to their representatives in Congress.

Here is a link the Americans for the Arts advocacy page, where you can click on the top link under Action Alerts (Federal: President's Budget Released).

After entering your zip code, the site obtains the contact emails for your Congressional representatives and provides you with sample messages you can clip & paste or you can write your own message.

I have done this and hope that you will join me in fighting for continued and increased funding for the arts and public broadcasting. There is also additional background information on the Americans for the Arts main website.

Until next time...


Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I was shocked to read Bernard Holland's article in today's New York Times, "When Histrionics Undermine the Music and the Pianist."

In it, he derides musicians (pianists in particular) who express any signs of feeling during their performances as being distracting to the audience. To Holland, the music itself must take precedence over any visual experience. He is appalled by any Glenn Gould-like ideosyncratic movements and suggests that young prodigies be forced to perform in robotic sublety to avoid any taint to the audience's pure experience of listening to the music.

Is this the same Bernard Holland who just a few weeks ago chastized audiences for failing to give in to their feelings and demonstrate their approval at what purists consider to be inappropriate moments during classical music concerts? I posted a link to that article, and regarded it as a breath of fresh air within a field that is so mired in archaic conventions that it has driven away many concertgoers.

I can't imagine putting manacles upon musicians any more than a gag-order upon the audience. Those seeking as pure a listening experience as might be achievable can lie in their beds in the dark and listen to their CDs on Bose Noise-Defeating headphones! Concertgoing experiences are meant to be feasts for all the senses.

Until next time...


Monday, February 4, 2008


Caught this article ("When Lowbrow Subsidizes Highbrow") in today's Wall Street Journal. It's notable for such a pro-business publication to question nonprofit cultural organizations for adopting business models that place their missions at risk in search of money they feel they cannot attract on the basis of their missions alone.

Among nonprofit resident professional theatres, public conversations about this subject rarely take place.

Sure, there are plenty that sell their souls for the almighty dollar, detouring them from devoting 100% of their resources to their missions, but the subject only crops up during frequent quiet laments about the dwindling audience for serious theatre in the U.S.--the raison d'etre of the regional theatre movement. That's when managers ask colleagues privately for the theatre equivalent of a "stock tip," a small, inexpensive, commercially successful show they can put on their stage to pay the bills.

Few theatres today have the resources to remain 100% true to their missions, and plenty are justifying what they know to be questionable artistic choices on the basis of audience development when there is little evidence to show that lasting bonds are created with commercial theatregoers who are simply not interested in the more serious fare for many reasons (partly because they have not been trained to be interested since arts education has long been removed from our public schools).

Of course, the best example of this is the ubiquitous holiday presentation "A Christmas Carol," offered annually at so many of the nation's regional theatres--even some with outstanding reputations and high artistic aspirations. It's rationalized as being a classic--after all, it is Charles Dickens--and even highbrow arts lovers enjoy seeing it. And it's not as crass as offering [insert the name of any contemporary commercial hit here] that rival theatres find themselves forced into putting on their stages to make a buck.

But just as virtually no ballet company can survive without its annual "The Nutcracker," many theatre companies are heavily dependent upon the annual shot-in-the-arm from "A Christmas Carol." (This situation was hilariously lampooned in "Inspecting Carol" by Daniel Sullivan and the Seattle Repertory Theatre, which I produced at the Laguna Playhouse quite a number of years ago."

The dilemma of financing high culture is one that is timely.

The National Endowment for the Arts just received a $20 million increase in President Bush's 2009 budget (it's still below its pre-Reagan-arts wars level, and $170 million for the entire U.S. still remains below that famous benchmark--how much the federal government spends on military bands) and the Arts Council of Britain has received a significant increase in funding (but then mired itself in controversy when it sought to cull hundreds of worthy groups from its roster).

Is selling one's soul to keep the doors open the answer?

For the arts organizations that fly "without a net" (i.e. adequate endowment), the answer is probably "yes."

But as we witness universities' tremendous success in building endowments--some so outrageously large (and targeted for criticism) that they are starting to offer drastically reduced tuition, even to affluent students--the only long-term solution is indeed a major endowment thrust.

This is not a new idea, but few cultural organizations have made it a priority.

It's far from easy (much easier to raise capital for visible bricks-and-mortar projects and even for annual operating expenses), but I think prospective donors who care about an organization can be convinced that this is the most important way that they can ensure the long-term financial health of that institution.

And for the institution, the freedom from abrogating its mission and the ability to expand access to our civilization's collective cultural legacy should be of paramount importance.

Until next time...


Saturday, February 2, 2008

On Theatre Critics & Criticism

The cover story and two additional related articles in the new issue of American Theatre are devoted to this topic.

While much of it is dispiriting commentary, reflecting not only age-old tensions between the creators of theatre and those who critique it, but the sea-change in how theatre lovers access information about theatre, including criticism, owing of course to the rise of the pluralistic internet and the decline of the monolithic newspaper.

Still, the opportunities for greater dissemination and discussion of ideas about theatre as a result of the internet were also explored, and offered a ray of hope for those who truly care about theatre's future ability to attract and engage audiences.

One of pieces is accessible online at: Otherwise, you should pick up a copy if you don't already subscribe.

Until next time...


Friday, February 1, 2008

A Rose by any Other Name...

مُمْتاز، رائِع
aukščiausios rūšies

These are some of the words you can use to describe this Sunday and next Tuesday to people in foreign lands.

I am of course referring to SuperSunday and Super Tuesday.

Until next time...