Sunday, August 23, 2015

Have Musicals Gone "Meh"?

Summer is coming to a close and it's now officially "back to school" time. Which means nothing to me except for less humidity and less children in my restaurant. I've had a fun summer and saw a lot of shows, comedians, and concerts over the last two months. Didn't go on vacation, never stopped working the day job, but still had a nice time. I keep going to open mics to try and improve my comedy and last night I told a story to a small but polite crowd. So things are good.

Friday night I saw a musical (which I later reviewed). It was a good production (cast and crew worked hard and it showed), but I didn't really enjoy it. This is becoming something of a recurring thing in my life: seeing musicals with talented people but struggling to be interested by the story or the message. A few weeks ago I saw the tour of Kinky Boots and didn't care for it, although the audience seemed to be eating it up. (My own mother said "Well it's not fabulous." Must be genetic.)

This sent me into a spiral. Do I hate musicals? Are they not good anymore? Were they EVER?

It's possible that after reviewing a lot of them this summer I may just be on musical burnout. Or it's possible that I've grown since college and I need a bit more bite out of my theater these days. Or maybe after The Book of Mormon nothing else feels as clever.

Perhaps musicals are like improv: when they're great, they're great. When they're just okay, they're tiresome. Seeing an okay musical isn't the end of the world, but as you realize how much longer you have to sit through it starts to weigh on you. If the quality of the show doesn't improve you just want to scream "STOP SINGING! ALL THIS CAN BE SAID IN LIKE TWO LINES!". I probably just need a nap.

Am I becoming a musical hater? Has the magic (and the music) left my soul? I think I'm just looking for something more with my art. Kinky Boots has themes of acceptance and gender roles being irrelevant; themes I agree with. But it plainly says them in the show, doing nothing short of spelling it out for the audience. I get that Broadway is theater at its most mainstream and that it needs to appeal to a broad demographic, but shit. Give audiences a little credit. There was nothing said in Kinky Boots that wasn't said in La Cage aux Folles, but it felt subtler then. Or maybe I'm not a Cyndi Lauper fan.

Anyway, don't come at me theater queens. I still love seeing live shows and musicals are counted among them. Maybe my moods are shifting and I'm in the mood for something really dark and messed up. Less Kinky and a little more Killy? You know, for the holidays.

Something to Listen to:
From the previously mentioned La Cage aux Folles, here's Douglas Hodge singing the Act 1 closer "I Am What I Am." His character Ablin is a drag queen performing in his husband Georges' club act. Georges son doesn't want his future in-laws to meet Albin as he is worried what they will think of their "alternative" lifestyle. Albin is deeply hurt, as he practically raised the boy, and defiantly breaks into this number to show that he is not going to apologize for who he is. It's an awesome moment.

Something to Read:

Keeping with the musical theme, I just finished the graphic novel Fun Home which was adapted into a musical that just won big at the Tony's. It's a comic memoir of Alison Bechdel's childhood and the complex relationship she had with her father. Both Alison and her father were gay, but she didn't learn that until close to the end of his life. In the novel she examines things about him to try and explain who he was and how he could be cruel and distant. It's a terrific read and (presumably) a terrific show.

Something to Watch:

I've watched both seasons of Bojack Horseman. The first season was fine but it really took off for me in the second season. It looks like some stupid cartoon full of ridiculous animal characters, but it hits such strong adult emotional chords that can really punch you in the gut if you aren't careful. Give it a try on Netflix.

Also on Netflix is the documentary Tig. It focuses on comedian Tig Notaro when she found out she had breast cancer shortly after losing her mother (and dealing with the end of a relationship). Her feelings towards it all came out in a lovely set at the Largo (sold as an album called Live) that changed a lot about her work. Her strength to power through with her work is awesome and admirable, and she makes you cry as much as laugh throughout the documentary. She also has a comedy special on HBO out now, you should probably watch that too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Apocalypse isn't the End of the World

As I write this I'm trying not to sweat. My air conditioner is pointed directly at me and I'm still disgusted with myself. I can't help it, I come from a sweaty people. A customer at my restaurant today said "It's nice we finally had a day of good weather." To which I responded, "I'm only outside for one minute and then my shirt gets wet." Which was probably more information than she wanted, but that's what she gets for making small talk about the weather. People like to get cheeky; "You'll miss then when it's snowing!" No, I won't. I'll wear all my favorite hoodies and my snow boots and be fine.

I've come up with one good trick for beating the heat this summer: tear off your skin. Makes it harder to sweat.

The sweat is also not helping this feeling of being burnt out. I've seen two plays these last two weekends and each one required a review written for The Pittsburgh Stage Online Magazine (go, click, give them a follow, all that crap. I'm obviously not in charge of marketing.) I'm not complaining about getting tickets to see theater because it is absolutely something I love doing. But each review requires a recap of what happened, some opinions of performances/writings/designs, and then a bit of an explanation as to what I think the play's message or theme is. All of which has to be written in a way where I feel I come off as intelligent. For these last reviews I've been struggling with that last part.

I've just seen a wide variety of shows lately and they're all fighting for space in my head. I've seen ancient Greek tragedies, an Irish play, a Sherlock Holmes play, and a musical from the fifties that is still incredible to watch. I know, I'm just too cultured. Or as cultured as someone with underboob sweat can be. But the ability to watch and understand theater is important and I write my reviews to encourage people with similar tastes (possibly in my age group?) to see theater whenever they have the opportunity. As I wind down on my month of reviews I'll be singing a musical (that I love) based off a movie that's starring a cast member from Glee. Art comes in all forms don't it?

Speaking of art, last week "they" released photos of the new X-men movie Apocalypse, which is coming out months from now. I'm looking forward to it, but I'm someone who doesn't get excited until I'm actually seeing the movie. Trailers and photos aren't for me. But people were up in arms about the appearance/design of the character Apocalypse (Oscar Isaacs):
That's him in the middle.

I'll be honest; I think it's fine. It doesn't spark anything in me one way or the other. But from the way people carried on you'd think Apocalypse was the end of the world (HA, goodnight everybody). For one thing, this is one shot of the movie. The character could go through some changes, this could be early on, we don't know if this is what he'll look like. Even if it is, this is a superhero movie and things should be allowed to look a little silly.

Look at his face though; there's some emoting going on there. Maybe a bit of sadness. Like acting. Who knows? Let's judge after the movie is over. Remember how we all hated Quicksilver's design and that turned out fine? Just relax. It probably won't be as bad as this guy:
Yeah, Juggernaut was never meant to exist in live action.

But some people had the audacity to negatively compare the above Apocalypse design to Ivan Ooze, the villain from the 90's Power Rangers: The Movie.

Excuse me? That's fucking awesome! Ivan Ooze was great; he was centuries old and wanted to rule the world, same as Apocalypse. You could have the actual Ivan Ooze stand in for Apocalypse in the X-men movie and it would be great. Have Paul Freeman reprise the role, it'll be even better. Ivan Ooze almost succeeded in killing a whole city's parent population, tell me that's not evil. Almost orphaned thousands of youths. Shit.

I feel myself getting silly the more I talk about it. Does this discredit what I said earlier about being cultured? Eh. Oh well.

Music to listen to: "We Need a Hero" - Power Rangers Redux (*makes me wanna go out and kick something)
Last Book I finished: Silence of the Lambs
Here's a Picture of a Rainbow I saw the other day

Saturday, July 4, 2015

I Sing Because I'm Cranky

If you've ever had to work a customer service job with me then you're probably aware of this fact: I sing. I sing a lot. To myself. Could be anything: folk, pop, jazz, rock, the occasional show tune and, of course, "What's Up?" by 4 Non Blondes. A good many coworkers have expressed annoyance at this habit (which is fair). So lately I've begun to ask myself: why the hell do I do this?

I have no aspirations to be a singing performer, and if you've ever heard my voice you'll know that's a fortunate thing. I don't even sing karaoke, because it's not endearing to me in any way. So why do I act like I'm rehearsing for my summer tour opening for an American Idol runner-up?

I've come up with this hypothesis: I sing to keep myself from going postal.

I've skimmed a few articles about how singing all the time is good for you mentally and emotionally, the equivalence to starting your day with a cup of coffee and all that (my therapist confirmed this study for me this morning). That's comforting, but really you can google any topic and find a hundred articles to support your claim. Although the other day I googled "Is it okay to pour bacon grease down the sink if you run water from the faucet?" and it turns out NO, that is still NOT okay by anyone's standards.

The fact that I work somewhere where Pandora radio plays all the time is probably a good reason why there's always a song in my head. I've actually grown accustomed to hearing "Pumped Up Kicks" on a daily basis. The truth is I have to listen to a good bit of complaints at work, ranging from the temperature in the building to the size of the free cup you get when you get tap water with your lunch. Nothing too awful, really, but after a while you just gotta let loose with a few choruses of "Faith" (covered by Lake Street Dive). It restores not everyone in the world needs to be set on fire.

Sure it's a bit dramatic, but I like to think annoying my coworkers with song will cut down on my annoying them with angry complaints. Ultimately NO OF COURSE IT DOESN'T. I can always find something to complain about and I will. Sometimes the only thing keeping me from rolling my eyes aggressively at customers is to sing "Pirate Jenny" to myself, and imagine being the protagonist in that song who orders the execution of the patrons who were rude to her. See? That's totally healthy.

So am I healthier for singing all the time? Maybe. Am I healthier for eating a salad in bed at 10 PM while watching Teen Wolf? I certainly hope so. But I shall keep singing all the time. Because it's far too late to get diagnosed/medicated for ADD, and because it makes me feel good when I want to be elsewhere. So I'll paraphrase that old hymn:

I sing because I'm cranky
I sing because I'm pissed
My eye is on the time clock
And I can't wait to be done of this

I'll leave you with Mahalia Jackson singing the real version. Keep singing, crabasses!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Find Your Art

Today was a big week if you live in Pittsburgh and have to be downtown. Three Rivers Arts Festival, Pride, Pirate Games, all the theater/comedy events...there's a lot happening. As someone who works two jobs, both downtown, I had a heavier-than-average workload this week. But I've reached the end and I even recall having fun a few times.

On Tuesday I saw the CLO's production of Mary Poppins with my mother as a late Mother's Day Gift (tickets were free; I'm such a cheap-ass). Yes, this isn't the "coolest" thing in the world by a long shot, but I did enjoy some nice childhood nostalgia (if you don't think that movie's great, you're wrong). There was tap-dancing and magic and we saw a woman fly across the stage and nobody died from a harness accident: Happy Mother's Day indeed. (You can read the review here, you probably missed the show at this point).

Wednesday I had some unexpected time between jobs so I went to the park by the Point to hang out. I had a sandwich, a book, a cherry was like being in a commercial for Young People Having Fun! Except, of course, I wasn't prepared for the sun and ended up burning my arms and legs as penance for having fun. I wanted a little color, and that color is pink and it itches like a motherfucker.

The book I was reading was Greg Proops' The Smartest Book in the World. I've been slacking on my reading in general, but what little I've read of this so far has been awesome. Proops didn't write an autobiography, which I would've enjoyed anyway, but instead offers up a variety of subjects he thinks people should know about. I already have a list of movies started that he's mentioned in the book, like The Lifeboat and All About Eve. I'm learning words, I'll be learning some about baseball (yay?), and he provides some great quotes, like this:

"You are not required to agree with everything you read. That is submission. But laughing at it and trying to understand something you do not concur with is called being sophisticated."
Greg Proops


So let me segue into my own thoughts about music. This weekend was Pride in Pittsburgh, and it sparked a controversy with its selection of outdoor concert artist. They picked Iggy Azalea, an Australian rapper/singer who gets in all sorts of heat for all sorts of reasons. Pittsburgh gays were outraged since Azalea used gay slurs in the past and wasn't a real ally, etc. Honestly I never cared, because I was never going to go anyway. For one thing, it's an outdoor concert in the street that you have to pay money to attend. No thanks.

Also, I have to admit, I really don't like Pride events. I think they're important for the LGBTQ community to know they're not alone and there's nothing wrong with anybody and we should all have the right to be happy. Totally all for that message. But for me's just so hot outside and there are too many people. I never know what to do. Walk around? Look at the tables of free stuff? That's fine but I couldn't really build an afternoon around that. I'm all for it, I'm just not going. Peace and love, from my apartment.

But onto my point about music: I saw countless articles about Iggy and Pride (she eventually pulled out, they got Nick Jonas, what a treat) and once again felt on the outside of everything. Because I was very excited to see Rhiannon Giddens performing at Arts Fest on Thursday. If you don't know her, she's one of the founding members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an all-black Americana group that does incredible work. Giddens has a powerful voice and excellent control over it, covering songs by Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'em Up Style", and Odetta. In addition to being excellent musicians, the Drops also aim to educate their audiences on the origins of folk/country music and the roots African American culture has in it. They're one of my favorites.
Rhianon Giddens

This concert reinvigorated me in the middle of my long work week. I sound like such a tool, but live music can really lift up my spirits when it's a great concert and music I dig. This was the ideal outdoor concert for me: the sun went down, the audience remained seated, and it was bluegrass and folk music performed excellently. It is moments like this, with great music surrounded by art, that I think "Damn, music is so important. Art of any kind is so important." I mean I'm a huge grump but a great concert can have me walking on air. The next day I had to work a double and I stayed in high spirits, fueled by the energy the music the night before had put in me.

Whether it's Mary Poppins, Iggy Azalea, opera, bluegrass, comedy, a good book, whatever, there is art out there for everyone. But I don't mean just "fun", which is also important to have. I don't mean "go to a country music concert and get shitfaced" or "go to a dubstep concert and take acid". That's not art hitting you, that's drugs hitting you. Find an art that hits you right in your soul when you're stone sober. I think that's an important thing to find. Your life advice ("But I didn't ask!") for today.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


The other night in our new apartment my roommate and I had our first power outage thanks to those fun summer thunderstorms. We lit candles, cracked a few windows to escape the heat, and then realized we had nothing to do. So we turned to the top of the fridge where the only two board games we own were sitting: Star Wars Episode 1 Monopoly and Sorry!. Seeing as how Sorry! had less things to read in the darkness, we chose to play that.

An hour's worth of game-playing commenced. Sorry! is an easy game for children, sure, but playing as an adult gives you the added feature of trash-talking your opponent. Simply by selecting our colors I was able to amp up the anger:
"What color do you want to be?"
Roommate: "Blue."
"I wanted to be Blue."
"Fine, I'll be Green."
"It's dark in here, why don't you pick a color that doesn't look incredibly similar to my color?"

It was on.

I had to explain to the roomie how when you land on another player's piece you bump them back to their Start and say "Sorry!". There was some coaching I had to do ("It's not just Sorry!, it's more of a playground-taunt sound: Sooorrreeeee!!!".) but eventually we got to an angry, sneering place. If you need a frame of reference, I will always recommend the family sketch from The Carol Burnett Show ("sliiiiiide"). Oh we had our fun.
Did you watch that clip? It's 15 minutes, but seriously let's appreciate the beauty of Carol Burnett's insane energy and Vicki Lawrence's stone-faced quipping as Mama. Her face after Eunice screams "IT WAS A SEVEN!!!!"? Kills me. And then the venom barely contained in Mama's, "Eunice appears to be of the opinion that it was a seven." That's just gold.

Sorry! was a game I played often as a kid at my grandma's house, although luckily she wasn't half the bitch Mama was. I liked a lot of board games as a child. There was Kerplunk, the game that had something to do with marbles but the real task for child Isaac was not to swallow them. There was Mall Madness, a game to teach teens how to NOT own a credit card as an adult. Guess Who?, the game with all the flippy people and you had to ask questions about who your opponent was. Fun fact, there were only five women in Guess Who? so if the first question was "are you a woman?" and you were, chances were good you were going to lose. I think this was some sort of commentary by Milton Bradley on the unfairness of the sexes, but ten-year-old me just liked the clicking sound the board made.

Your classic murder board games were fun. There was Clue and all it's many different interpretations. Then VHS Clue. You guys remember VHS Clue? It was a videocassette you put in your VCR and it showed scenes of a small movie version of Clue (not the Tim Curry one, a lower-budget one). It was campy as all hell and me (and others in my generation) loved to simply sit and watch it without playing the game. Col. Mustard had a metal plate in his head that magnetized bullets and knives, which got him fired from spy work. That's beautiful stuff.

The not-as-popular 13 Dead End Drive also revolved around solving a murder and "bumping off" your opponents. Years later my generation would be told that video games like Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto were too violent. Shit, board games were getting violent at that point. People were killing each other with candlesticks. That's got to be messy.

Just a game about a bunch of heirs killing each other over a will. Ages 9 and up.
Anyway, after a close game of Sorry! (I won by a hair) we moved the candles to the kitchen table to play a few rounds of Gin. Gin Rummy has become my go-to two-person card game when you need to pass the time (like when you're working during a Shakespearean tragedy). The first game my roommate won four hands in a row and totally schooled me. So we set up for a second game. I began to play hard ball: I payed extra attention to what she was picking up and what she was laying down. With no electricity to distract me I was in a good place and I bested her in the next game.

Card-playing is in my blood, probably because I grew up in West Virginia. In high school, no matter what "clique" you looked at chances were good at least 3 tables in the lunch room had a game of Euchre going at some point. My junior year me and my fellow band nerds would play it constantly. I don't recall winning, but we had our fun.

I also played a lot of Pinochle with my family. Pinochle is a bit of an old person's game, right up there with Bridge. My grandparents, aunts, and cousins would all play it regularly at family events and I eventually weaseled my way in to playing with them. Pinochle is no joke; it's hard as fuck. And my Pap was terrific at it. He was aware of every card that was laid down, to the point where he'd start telling you what to play ("Lay down your Queen of Spades."). When he started forgetting names and things in his final years it was as sad as an athlete who wasn't allowed to play anymore.

Anyway the power is back on and computer games are getting attention again. But I can appreciate nature's occasional interruption for some board game nostalgia. I like games like this more than things like Cards Against Humanity. To me the conversations and snarkiness that come while playing a seven-hour game of Monopoly are more entertaining than a cheap Helen Keller joke. Although sometimes the snarkiness gets too intense and crankiness ensues, like the one time during a game of Spoons when I hit my sister in the face with a spoon. Fun was not had for the whole family that night. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Get the Biscuits!!!

Today I peed in a cup for the first time. I'm not in any trouble, I'm just applying for a job that likes to do drug screenings. A seasonal, part-time job that may do random drug testing after being employed. I found it a bit odd since the job was one where I'd assume at least some people would be high sometimes, but I just went with it. The actual process of peeing in the cup is not a good story: I had a diet Coke and a ninety-minute car ride before getting to the center. Very straightforward. My only concern was whether or not it was rude to keep peeing after I reached the line on the cup.

Speaking of pee in cups, I ate at Red Lobster yesterday. I hadn't been to one in years but I was home for my mom's birthday. I generally don't like Red Lobster because I never know what the hell to order. When you ask people what to get there 9 out of 10 people will say "THE BISCUITS!" and you'll have to force a laugh with them. But of course that's the best thing there, it's free carbs. But they don't give you the biscuits 'til after you order an entree, because they're on to your "free meal" bullshit.

What do I get? Crab legs? No! My whole life I've watched people eat crab legs and I've never deemed it worthwhile. So much work: you need a small fork, a vice grips, everyone says it hurts their hands, you get a bit of flesh out at a time which you then soak in that liquid butter. This all needs to be done quickly because "it's not good cold". My nana brought her own scissors and plastic gloves, like she was performing surgery. After dinner she asked my mother to close.

I ordered salmon and everyone at the table proceeded to give me shit for it. My family is the kind that finds what they like and keeps ordering that. Which is fine, but I don't go to Red Lobster EVER and just ordered some fish. And it was good! It tasted like fish! Which is what I was going for! What'd they get? Coconut Crusted Shrimp, two of my least favorite things fried together. And they were disappointed with it, so really who came out better here?

But I won't go to Red Lobster any time soon because I generally avoid seafood. Actually I generally avoid sea life. The ocean scares the hell out of me. It's so deep, we have no idea where the bottom is, it's a pitch black space thousands of miles under the surface where who-knows-what is swimming around waiting to kill us. Seen an Anglerfish?

Look at that thing. That swam up from the mouth of hell, don't tell me otherwise. In some countries, though, Anglerfish are a delicacy. They taste like lobster and they come with their own candlelight.

I've had some time to myself during these past few days, when I'm not looking for work or peeing in cups. Lately I used one of those days to watch season one of Broad City. I'm late to that game, but it's a lovely show and I currently can't get enough of it. Something I'm not watching? The Jinx, that documentary no one was talking about until two weeks ago and then everyone started talking about it at once (and then smart asses everywhere went "Jinx! You owe me a Coke!"). I've never been too into true crime. I have to be in a very specific dark mood before I can read about grisly murders without depressing myself out. Also I don't like watching things about murderers because I don't need any ideas.

Speaking of things that need killed, there are going to be two places on the same street near me where you can paint while drinking wine. I hate those. They take something usually fun (wine), mix it with an activity some people actually work hard at (painting), and add something awful (other people). Gross. My neighborhood is really going to hell. "Oh, but it's a fun and good way to relieve stress and socialize!" So just masturbate in a group, it's cheaper.

Was this bitter? Eh. Well it's been my week. Happy March! (Happy Birthday Ma!)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Kissing is Gross, Killing is Fine

The AMC hit series The Walking Dead has had some good episodes since returning from it's mid-season break this year. The show is based on the graphic novels of the same name and focuses on a group of people who are trying to live through a world infested with zombies. The show has featured many gruesome scenes in its past 5 years, but some people took offense to what happened in the last episode:

That's right, two men kissed. The horror.

It's true that up until last year this show could be seen as a winner in a homophobe's mind, as there were apparently no gay people that survived the end of the world. The lesbian character Tara was introduced last year and even had a girlfriend for about two episodes, but they weren't terribly big characters at the time and the girlfriend met her end anyway. But now we have two more gay characters, Aaron and Eric, who are in a loving relationship and shared an intimate kiss.

Most of the complaints I saw online were people who didn't want the show "shoving gay shit down our throats." Well let me put it this way: you don't have to approve of it, but you'd have to be a moron to think this doesn't exist. Walking Dead is science fiction but the world these characters lived in was based on our world. Our world that has gay people in it. Gay people who kiss sometimes.

Now this isn't a "gay visibility on TV" issue. This is an "I think you guys are watching The Walking Dead wrong" issue. If you watch this show for intense bloody zombie-killing fun, that's not the right reason. I mean, sure, you get bloody zombie-killing fun, but this show is about characters. If you want to watch people kill zombies, just go pick up any video game on the subject and you can do that.

This show is about human beings and what happens to them when society falls. Take Rick, for example. Started as the heroic cop kind of guy and now he's a hardened, paranoid leader who ties people up first and asks questions later. Former housewife Carol lost her family and has become a woman who is willing to make difficult sacrifices for the greater good. Carl is a boy who is essentially having his childhood taken from him by monsters (also he shot his mom), and who knows what kind of effects that'll have on his personality. It's about them. Like Rick said two episodes ago, "we are the walking dead."

You think gay people wouldn't be around in the zombie apocalypse? Please. Know who is used to situations where it feels like the world is against you? Gay people. Know who has experience in avoiding danger? Gay people. Know who would love the opportunity to just take a freaking bat and bash some heads in? Angry people. Some of whom are probably gay.

There are much worse people to be trapped in a zombie-ridden world with. Like, I don't know, KIDS. Kids will always bring you down in any disaster situation. Because they're young and don't know better, they do stupid things. How many horror movies have you seen with a child in it who ultimately fucks something up? They're the worst. Baby Judith is cute as hell but every time she cries she threatens to bring zombies raining down on our heroes. That's a huge liability. I wouldn't hang out with that group. Oh and how about those two girls Carol looked after? Remember how the one was a sociopath? Sure, that can happen to anyone, but still another good reason not to travel with kids.

It's unnerving for me to see people around my age saying things like "keep this shit off our TVs". No. This is life now. This will never stop. You're going to have to get used to this or stop watching TV. Might I suggest reading? You could try reading The Walking Dead comics...

...Awwwwww. Damn it. I guess you're screwed.