Too hilarious. Also depressing. But also hilarious. But depressing….ahhh I can’t take it anymore!
There is nothing sexier than a baritone September 30, 2008
I’m sitting here listening to the Original Cast Recording (OCR) of South Pacific, and though my mind is occupied with its usual questions (why is “You Have To Be Carefully Taught” so senselessly jaunty?) I can’t concentrate on them, really, because I’m listening to Ezio Pinza belt out “This Nearly Was Mine“.
Oh, dear god. That I’d forgotten that voice…It’s like a hot bubble bath and a velvet pillow and being kissed on the ear, all at once.
I’m reminded of my minor middle-school obsession with “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers,” which was on the classic movie channel what seemed like every other day. It was really a stupid movie, on many levels, not least because of the rampant and pervasive sexism. I remember my mom begging me to change the channel when she heard the opening notes of “Bless Your Beautiful Hide.”
Her argument was:
It was heinous that
a) Howard Keel was roaming the streets looking for a wife simply because she would be a useful farming asset, and,
b) He had reduced the act to such a transactional level that he was equating this theoretical woman with livestock.
My argument was as follows:
Shut up, Howard Keel is singing.
It didn’t matter what. In that movie he sang about raping, pillaging, kidnapping, about how annoying his wife was, and I don’t know what else. But I hung on his every word as he wove a magical web of beautiful misogyny, and I wanted nothing more than to fall into it and iron his shirts forever, as long as he would keep singing. I also caught the beginning of “Show Boat” on the classic movie channel a month or two ago, and fell under Howard’s spell as he sang “Make Believe.” Only there was this ninny of a soprano who insisted on turning it into a duet. All I wanted to hear was my Howard, and she had to be all, “Listen to how high and shrieky I am! You could totally sing this part better than me, but I’m here with Howard and you’re not, let me continue to drown him out, LALALALALALALA……”
I don’t understand why Broadway is fixated on tenors – they have been for quite awhile now. Baritones in modern musicals have been mostly regulated to villainy (see The Scarlet Pimpernel; Les Miserables; The Color Purple; Jesus Christ Superstar; Little Shop of Horrors; Seussical! The Musical; 1776; and Sweet Smell of Success, just to name a few). But after listening to Howard and Ezio for awhile, those leading tenors start to sound pretty whiny and boring.
Tenors in musical theatre were traditionally allotted “supporting actor” roles – young men who were written to be passionate, rash, and headstrong, they always fell head-over heels in love during the course of the show, and it usually ended badly.
Let’s look at The King and I, another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. In the movie, Yul Brynner, an actor of extreme command and gravitas, plays the eponymous king. The king is a man of great pride, hard-won intelligence, and, not surprisingly, overblown confidence. His word is law, and he possesses an incredible magnetism, one that draws the educated, sensible, very British Miss Anna to him in a way she can neither explain nor define.
And then there is the tenor role, a young man who foolishly falls in love with Yul Brynner’s next wife. This tenor has only one duet to his name, and it’s nice, and everything, but Yul Brynner has all these crazy good songs sung not only by but about him. Yul Brynner, of course, has the tenor whipped near to death for his insolence. This is his right as a baritone leading man.
How did this happen? When did tenors begin brandishing foils and hopping about and shrieking at baritones in their silly voices (as though a baritone would ever be intimidated by such a thing)? When did the tenor usurp the baritone’s role as a mature, complex, deeply thoughtful leading man?
Let us take Colm Wilkinson as an example. Great Irish tenor, and internationally acclaimed. I grew up watching him in the 10th Anniversary “Dream Cast” concert DVD of Les Miserables. Honestly, the man is the only Jean Valjean as far as I’m concerned. But, pray, let us consider this picture of Colm performing in Canada not long ago.
For contrast, let’s look at Phillip Quast, who played Javert opposite Colm in the Les Mis dream cast. Javert, in typical modern musical style, is the menacing obsessive cop/stalker/revenge driven villain of the piece. This man sings a suicide song like none you’ve ever heard, musing about why Colm did not kill him when he had the chance (perhaps because Colm is a tenor? Tenors are not capable of killing anyone). Check out the video, you’ll even see Colm at the beginning. Quast is the sexy one.
He is driven, he is highly motivated, he is a man with a plan. Not for one second in the show does he waver in his duty – it would be beneath most police inspectors to pursue a petty thief and chain-gang escapee over twenty years and at least five cities, but dammit, Jean Valjean got away on his watch, and Javert will violate anyone’s jurisdiction to get him back. This is clearly above and beyond the call of duty, and, I think, deserving of a gritty Scorsese movie adaptation.
Colm, on the other hand, is sort of floating along being a reborn Christian and nice to everybody, adopting orphans, running towns and factories, saving people from the barricades, turning himself in to save an innocent man, etc.
No offense to Victor Hugo or Colm Wilkinson, but doesn’t this guy seem a little….vanilla? He would not be fun to hang out with. He’d probably just read the bible aloud, or something (“What does the Book of Job mean to you?”). Javert, though – you know he never goes home. He’s at the jail, filing his 20-year-felon-pursuit paperwork; or actively chasing Valjean; or drowning his sorrows in a local tavern with a glass of good wine, staring blankly at the wall, telling hair-curling stories to ragged seadogs and debilitating anyone who gets out of line with one punch. He’s mysterious, and badass enough to operate outside the law to serve justice. If you had a thing with Javert, you know you’d be one of many, but, oh, it’d be worth it, even when he said “I see the law being violated over there, gotta go,” ran off, and never called again.
For an odd construction in both modern and traditional baritone paradigms, look no farther than Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Both the male lead and the creepy villan are baritones. Leading man Gordon McRae (who looks like Robert Mitchum) did a phenomenal job. He also did a great job in Carousel, a charming little show about domestic violence, tackling the classic baritone marathon “Soliloquy,” which was also sung beautifully by John Raitt and Samuel Ramey for Broadway, and Frank Sinatra for fun.
And what of The Sound of Music’s Captain Von Trapp and his dulcet “Edelwiss“? You know who was a tenor in The Sound of Music? Rolfe. The gangly mailman/nazi.
That makes it pretty simple, yes? Baritone or nazi? I’m going to have to go with the baritone.
Let’s bring back the days when baritones were the touchstones of musicals. Let’s write new music for them so we don’t have to keep revisiting Rodgers and Hammerstein clunkers to get our sexy baritone fix. Rodgers and Hammerstein are not the apex of musical theatre, their shows were depressing and predictable, and, as near as I can tell, a sort of “gateway” musical theatre that sucks in people who don’t know how cool Sondheim is yet.
No matter how much I love listening to “Soliloquy,” I can only sit through “Carousel” so many times.
Couple Things August 12, 2008
In any relationship, it’s important to spend time together doing things you both enjoy – “Couple Things,” if you will.
Warhammer, for the uninitiated, is an addictive and expensive hobby which involves the acquisition and painting of small plastic and metal creatures which are totally awesome. These creatures are then assembled into armies of different point values which can square off against each other in accordance with very complicated rules which I do not understand at all (I just like the painting part).
The story of how I began painting “mens” as Calvin calls them, is a stereotypical one: Boy becomes mildly obsessed with something, girl, noting that boy is increasingly absorbed by said thing, begins to participate, if only to interact with him more. So now at least half of our date nights are spent sitting very happily on the floor, giving color to increasingly detailed models. The whole thing is incredibly geeky.
I will sprinkle pictures of some dudes Calvin and I painted throughout the post. They took lots of manhours, but it’s some fantastic work, well worth it.
While we paint, we like to watch the West Wing, for simple, easy-to-understand reasons:
1) It is the best show ever
2) We really, really wish that President Bartlett were the real president
3) It is the best show ever
The show follows the staff of a fictitious White House during a thoughtful, intelligent, democratic administration which, in a cruel twist of irony, mirrors the chronology of Dubya’s. Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is without peer, witty and sparkling, and the material dealt with is more intelligent than in any other show, before or since. (more…)
My dad is a pretty cool guy. He’s dapper, charming, and polite to a fault. He comes from hardy Yankee stock, and often makes references to childhood stories that give us pause (“My father and I built that chimney,” “That reminds me of the time we put a firecracker in a fish and threw it over the bay,” “It’s no fun to wake up and find that poodles have peed in your shoes,” etc).
But, perhaps because he is one of those “liberal Yankees” we so often disparage Down Here, he has several other, more abrasive traits which I find rather endearing. He has an almost overdeveloped sense of right and wrong – if his belief in justice were any stronger, he’d have to wear a cape. This couples with the sort of tenacity rarely found outside of Christian missionaries and 19th century British colonialists to create one hell of an investigator.
He started out as a journalist, first up north, where nothing happens because it’s snowing, and then in Tampa where nothing happened because the Mob ran a tight ship. I jest, of course, he covered a murder his first day in town and eventually did an almost-award-winning series on the “Cigar City Mafia.” (If you recognize that as the title of an acclaimed book, you’re correct. If you notice that that book was not written by my dad but utilizes much of his research, you are also correct. Note I did not link to its Amazon page.)
He’s something of a folk hero even within the family, my boyfriend Calvin holding him in particular reverence. He whispers “badass,” when he hears one of the oft-retold stories of his exploits, and has said, “your dad could go to a hot dog stand and it would turn out to be a mafia hot dog stand.”
The nature of dad’s work has always made him better informed than we mere mortals, from “do not shop in that store – trust me,” to “Oh, god, it’s the former commissioner of such-and-such, I hope he didn’t see me, he’s such a jerk.” He’s always repeated to us, mantra-like, to always, always, always read the fine print, and to never, never, never, give out our personal information. In my house, much like Calvin’s house, credit card companies were at best a ravenous monster which we should trust minimally and use warily, and at worst the harbinger of the Antichrist.
Calvin’s mom, in fact, indirectly blames credit cards for all of Calvin’s childhood issues with school and society. She was a stay-at-home-mom when his older sisters were growing up, but feels Calvin lost the benefit of that because scarily mounting credit card debt required her to go back to work when he was still very small. She looks back on this bend in the road wistfully, thinking that if it had gone differently, her son would have had a better childhood and a better relationship with her.
College was another well-tended expectation in both our houses. My mom came from an academic family of teachers, professors, and perpetual students, and of course, had her own Ph.D. My dad came from a family for whom immigration was no distant memory – for him, college was a way to prove himself and reach for something better than roofing, which was his father’s profession (Dad always said, “my father’s idea of power tools was two guys with shovels”).
Calvin’s parents and sisters all graduated from Florida State University, the former putting themselves through working as lab techs before a degree was required to become a lab tech. His brother-in-law is at present working on his Ph.D., and the whole family has enough Master’s Degrees between them to frighten a coal-mining town.
So Calvin and I were more than a little dismayed to learn that the Great Evil of credit cards and the Great Good of college were strolling off arm-in-arm into the sunset.
Back to my dad: He’s now a top-notch fraud investigator at a nice law firm, where his aforementioned tenacity and sense of justice can sometimes lead him to put in hours and hours of work investigating things which are clearly wrong on many levels but not necessarily prosecutable.
One such recent case involved him looking into the level of care Florida State put into handling their students’ personal information. This was of direct concern to me, as I’m in the process of giving them all of my personal information in order to apply for admittance in the future.
As it turns out, the University I’ve revered since childhood has taken to giving Bank of America their students’ names and home addresses so as to more easily market FSU themed credit cards to them.
I can’t get past how sleazy this is. It’s beyond cavalier indifference to the students’ well-being, it’s something much more sinister, much more wicked and hypocritical. To make videos alerting college kids to the dangers of credit card debt and to then turn and sell them to those very creditors?
The whole student body is so attuned to physical danger, to the big scary world outside their hometowns, a world of date-rape and bars and the vulnerability that shadows loneliness – and yet without their consent or knowledge, the digital bits and pieces that make up their very identities are being offered up to people who are infamous for trashing and erasing them.
My Dad made an attempt to interview some students on campus the other day, unimpressed by his suit, business cards, and salt-and-pepper beard, about half of them automatically assumed he was a creepy old guy who wanted to throw them in the back of a van for some nefarious purpose. Admirable caution.
But what to do when the people to whom we have entrusted our safety prove untrustworthy? When even playing it safe isn’t safe enough?
Calvin tells me that I should always operate at cop-level awareness, a hangover from his days in the local police cadet program. He has a whole color coded awareness chart, just like the Department of Homeland Security. The lowest level is white, and he says the only time I should ever be there is when I am asleep.
It is in that spirit that I’ve written this blog: awareness. We should all be looking out, looking as far ahead as we can, for ways we can get hurt. And if we see a societal problem, the least we can do is pass it on, change it if we can, or at least help others avoid it.
To learn more about the how some schools are profiting from their students’ personal info, check out this site my dad’s working on right now. And please, pass it on.
Thought for the Day April 1, 2008
“Imagine what might happen to Leonardo da Vinci today if he were placed in the average American public school, or (perish the thought) a research university faculty. This illegitimate son of a poor woman, a left-handed writer who loved to draw and challenge conventional thought, would be labeled an at-risk special education candidate or be told he had too many interests, a lack of focus, and off-task predilections.”
– J. Darby, J Catterall – The Teachers College Record, 1994
Well, That Explains a Lot March 27, 2008
For years, I’ve been telling people that I was – hmm, I believe the phrase I used when I was middle-school-aged was “math retarded.”
My mom told me many times over the years, sometimes rather sharply, not to say that. She didn’t want other people to think of me that way, and she didn’t want me to think of myself that way. Therefore the phrase I used to declare “I’m not very good at math,” evolved continually as I got older, from “I haven’t taken very much math,” to “I don’t have a very strong math background,” to “Math wasn’t really a concentration for me,” to my most recent, “I’m better with words than numbers.”
The thing which all these more recent explanations have in common is that they admit that my math training has not been extensive, but refuse to consider that I would be less than adept at it if I applied myself.
Turns out my original assessment of “math retarded” is probably closer to the truth.
While I was dual enrolled at my wonderful community college, they let me take whatever classes I wanted, so I focused on English and theatre, with some film studies, psychology, sociology, and history thrown in. But I officially became a high school graduate in December (I still can’t get used to saying “I was homeschooled,”) and so in this, my first semester as a full-fledged college student, the administration put its foot down, said, “them’s the rules,” and made me take a math class.
If you were wondering, it was the lowest leveled, easiest, non-college credit math class, which was all that my test scores (112 0ut of 120 English-type skills, ultimately 27 out of 120 math) would bear.
I tried to go into the class with an open mind. I was still on the “gaps in my knowledge, but perfectly competent,” track. I figured that hey, these people would teach me to do math, and then I’d be set. I really tried to think of it as a positive.
I had a lot of trouble in the class, though, because of the way it was set up (minimal to no human interaction, the computer teaches you math and does so poorly, etc., etc.). Despite getting As on all my quizzes, I got a D and an F on my first two tests, the worst grades I have ever received on anything in my whole entire life. When I expressed my despondency to my English Guru, he asked if I tended to make huge piles of paper all over my living space, if I ever found my mind wandering in math class, and when I answered yes on both counts, if I’d ever considered the possibility that I might have a math learning disability. He told me that some people, especially those who are highly gifted in language, writing, and communication (such as I am) have brains which simply do not properly fire neurons when it comes to math.
I found this thought kind of intriguing, but when I mentioned it to my mom, she toed the “perfectly capable, but weak on the fundamentals,” line; and when I mentioned it to Calvin, he responded with, “ADD that only manifests itself in math? I’ve known people who tried to pull that crap. You’re too smart for that.”
So I rallied in my usual little-engine-that-could sort of way, and got help outside of class from my mom, my math major friends (all of whom whipped out their calculators to do the multiplication and division I had to do in my head), anyone willing to give me some time and some patience.
It seems that there was an earlier draft of the story in which the little engine didn’t make it up the hill, but stopped partway and rusted to a standstill.
I got an F on my next test (a high F, though). I didn’t know what had happened, I’d tried so hard.
I sobbed, I went to my math teacher and had a conversation with her and my mother. She was much more empathetic than she was in class, she probably feels as strangled by the system as I do. “Have you considered the possibility,” she asked, “that you may have a math learning disability?”
On the way home, I vomited in the car.
I met with a highly recommended (by both my English Guru and my math teacher) disabilities counselor, who told me that I displayed all the classic signs of having a specific math disorder.
He gave me a referral for testing, and said that if the tests came back the way he thought they would (and he’s been doing this literally as long as I’ve been alive, so he should know) there were equivalent non-math courses I could take – and still get my AA on time and transfer into local university and get a creative writing degree and live happily ever after.
But even if that doesn’t pan out (knock on wood) I feel so much peace knowing what is going on. Knowing why I can’t retain math; why I have to memorize numbers like my SSN or my library card number in long strings to remember them at all; why sometimes when I try to frame number problems in my mind all I can make my brain do is produce a faint humming noise (as opposed to word problems, which spontaneously begin to work themselves out without my even trying).
I thought I’d blog this because it’s another interesting step in my educational journey, and also gels rather nicely with a poem I wrote a few weeks ago, inspired by accidentally leaving my notebook behind in my math class.
On Leaving a Book of Poems in the Math Building
There is nothing quite so terrible
as losing a notebook of poems
in the math building.
I am dizzy, frantic, wondering
what horrors those numbers people
will enact on my scrawled characters.
They might translate them to binary,
or try to convert all of my metaphors to fractions
to see if they are truly equivalent.
They might grade them, disfigure their structure,
mark them in bright judgmental red,
or add the lines together and average out the vowels.
They are short-sighted, hungry beasts, eager for the universe
to give up all its secrets, now, and to show its work besides,
they spend their time trying to count the seeds in the center of a sunflower
rather than capture what a sunflower means.
They know the numbers which make up the Fibonacci Sequence,
but know not the delight in saying “Fibonacci,”
over and over, feeling it in your mouth, caressing it.
They have never tried to make “Fibonacci Sequence” an anagram,
they don’t know how difficult it is when there is no R,
Even if you make “equine bison,” which I did,
you still have an A, E, F, and three Cs left, an untidy remainder.
They might write them as decimals.
Head-Cleaning Day Again January 24, 2008
The only thoughts I think these days are half-formed fragments of days, randomly retained moments, flashing images that, when pieced all together, look like a turn-of-the-century movie made by a crazy man perpetually high on opium and determined that his film make no sense, even to him.
I thought I’d share this delightful feeling with all of you in the form of another head-cleaning day, mini-stories that struck me as interesting but go nowhere; trunk songs taken out, aired, and thrown into a highly inappropriate revue.
It may not be a well-thought-out blog, but it’s better than no blog at all.
It seems rather cruel to me to make people in a basic math class discern and type the last 4 digits of their student ID number into computer before you’ll even pretend to teach them anything.
And when I say “pretend to teach,” I mean it, although I’m not sure how much they’re even pretending any more. The whole class is conducted through computers, and the “teacher” is there merely to check your homework, which she does merely to make sure you aren’t cheating (we’ve been informed that if we are so much as seen holding an electronic device while class is in session, she will assume it is a calculator and throw us out). “Show your work, show your work! Squawk!” (this last bit is where she turns into a giant primordial bird of some sort and eats us all).
I’ve been behind on homework assignments two or three times now, and every single time it’s been because she forgot to tell me what, specifically, I was supposed to do. At least she has the grace to look mildly chagrined when I come in and it isn’t done and I’m obviously blissfully unaware it’s due.
I know I am a words person and not a numbers person because when the computer explains that Juan was stacking sweaters by color in the stock room, I wonder several things:
- I wonder where Juan works.
- I wonder why he isn’t out front, attending to customers. Is he not allowed? Did he once bite someone or tell a woman she looked fat in her jeans, or what?
- Why is he stacking the sweaters by color? Why sweaters? Why by color and not size? Is he gay? What’s going on here?
- I wonder why Juan is so interested in using the associative properties of multiplication to count the stacks of sweaters. Presumably they’ve already been inventoried.
- I do not wonder what great truth Juan uncovered about the associative properties of multiplication after all his stacking and color coding, because they didn’t bother to make me connect to Juan or care about him as a person. I do not identify with his strife.
Oh, I could write a whole literary review on these travesties they call “math questions.” Don’t even get me started on Lindsay, who works in a sporting goods store and apparently has nothing better to think about than how many tennis balls she’s sold today and how many of them were green and how many of them were yellow.
A Woman Outside a Cigarette Shop
There’s a cigarette store next to the Chinese restaurant where I eat on Thursdays, and today I noticed a pregnant woman standing in front of the store, peering into the windows. As I walked by, she glowered at me, as though it were my fault she has an extremely high probability of birth defects.
There’s a part of your brain where all your short-term memory is stored, and apparently mine is damaged, because I don’t remember any of the names of the parts of the brain that we learned about in psychology today.
He has died, and as such I will have to accept the fact that, no, he is never going to come to his senses and marry me.
Last night at Calvin’s house, I watched “Wife Swap” one of our Wednesday night timewasters. One of the families in question was a freewheeling brood of magicians who devoted almost all their time to their beloved craft (their son was the youngest professionally ranked magician in the world) and the other a family with two OCD parents who made the kids do something like five hours of chores a day and never played with them or let them go outside alone.
I’m now beginning to wonder if I may have hallucinated the whole thing.
Calvin’s Second-Oldest Sister
She can write. I mean, really, seriously, write, in a way that makes me jealous. Granted, she’s something like ten years older than me, so she’s got that advantage. And she’s actually been through our local University’s kick-ass creative writing program, as opposed to me, pining for it and mooning over its course requirements webpage. (You have to take 3 semester hours each in British Literature Pre-1800 and British Literature Post-1800. Have to? Really? That doesn’t sound like a ‘have to’. You won’t let me take it instead of math?)
Be that as it may, she’s one of those writers you run into every so often and just go, “Well, damn.” One of those people who make a voice wake up in the back of your head as you read, a voice which says, “Now, this is good writing.” This is a person who just wrote a self-reflective note on facebook that sounded like it should have been in some sort of collection of essays somewhere, or at the very least published as a ‘my view’ column in Newsweek. And she wasn’t even trying. I want to be that good. My English Guru (the man who taught my first-ever college English class and who seems to think I’m amazing, and as such is my sort-of-mentor) once wrote a line about Kerouac’s On The Road that really spoke to me, something about how the book reads like an improvised jazz solo, blurted out in fevered brilliance and relatively free of subsequent editing (for the record, I added the part about the fevered brilliance).
If writing is improvisational jazz, I’m that kid in Drumline who could play anything just from hearing it once and write genius drum solos but who still had a lot to learn about pesky things like rhythm and notes and teamwork. And Calvin’s sister is Satchmo.
I’ve actually had my English Guru on the brain today – I ran into him in a hallway in the English building, and we had a nice brief chat, and then I got on the bus and saw someone who looked like him – but who I realized pretty quickly was more or less a homeless person. And I was compelled to write a poem about it.
I Thought I Saw You on the Bus Today
I thought I saw you on the bus today
Well, it was sort of you
A little sad
A little homeless
A little schizophrenic
But not in a sweatervest and checkers
In a knit cap pulled low over your brow
Which was not thoughtful
But furrowed over your eyes
No longer kind