Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An evening with Chanticleer

Some days, my job is just better than most. Today was one of those days.

It's bittersweet, of course, since technically, the performance by Chanticleer that I saw tonight was barely half full. I suppose some would call that a failure.

I choose to think of it as a special treat for those 600 folks who were smart enough to buy tickets. No, it wasn't the flashy Broadway show that 9000 people attended last week. No, there were no special effects. Yes, the generous crowds also gave that Broadway show a standing ovation, but those who know this town know that's nothing to get excited about. Tonight's ovation was for excellence, pure and simple.

Regardless of the language, these guys sang with the pure, clear voices of angels. As the lights came up at intermission, I experienced the thrill that is my litmus test for a great performance: a sense of glee that I had an entire 2nd act to go...and wouldn't have to leave the theater or the music just yet. Clad in tuxedos (a bit stuffy on a Tuesday, one of my colleagues said, but I like the formality; it implies a respect for the evening and the music) and falling into that odd sway/bounce motion that all singers seem to adopt, they held us captive for more than 2 hours.

Arts administration can be a thankless, anxious job. Lots of numbers to crunch, strategies to plan, people to manage and ticket sales (or lack thereof) to fret over. Shows like Chanticleer are the therapy that keeps me going. The harmonies that wafted out over the audience today were a quiet massage to my tired brain. That perfect vocal moment, when the soaring pitch of the tenor forces a deep, rapturous breath into the lungs, was a reward for the days spent in meetings and at my desk. That wonderful beat at the end of a song, when the wavelengths of sound are fading, and the singers lower their folders, and the murmur of appreciation ripples through the crowd before the first person claps: that moment makes my job worth it.

And the sight of a stooped, elderly gentlemen, proudly showing his signed, vinyl recording of Chanticleer to the group's young music director, who was likely a child when the record was cut, is just the icing on the cake.

Yep. I have a great job. Thank you and good night.

Monday, October 19, 2009

U2 in the Round

Glory be! At last, I get to write a blog entry about a show that has absolutely and unequivocally nothing to do with my day job.

The show: U2's 360 degree tour stop in Oklahoma, which is winding up the 2009 leg (there are only a few more chances to see the show in the US in 2009, according to the U2.com website).

As I've mentioned in this blog before, I'm a musical idiot. I have no pop/rock musical sensibilities other than "I like this," and "I don't like that." So when I say I love U2, it's with full acknowledgment that they are mainstream, mass-media entertainers who don't have the independent cred of other, more enlightened (your words, not mine) bands.

And I say to you; I care not. They are kick ass. The 360 tour is unabashedly huge in all ways, with more than 200 trucks and an enormous "spaceship" of a stage, which not only trumpets the tour's universal ambitions, but also gets the sound system off the ground, giving the band a chance to perform in and among their fans. The design of show was an attempt to create intimacy in the most un-intimate space of all: a football stadium. I'm not sure it achieved this, but again, who cares?

Every element of this show was technically superior, with the exception of the fact that I found the sound muddy from time to time. Lights - amazing, from the 12 spotlights mounted on the "legs" of the spaceship to the mirror ball that rose high above us. Moving walkways? Check. Smoke and fog? Check. Genius videography that made us feel like we were inside a music video (one that just happened to be live)? You got it. Pacing and flow of the songs? Pretty much spot on.

And, oh right, the music. There's not much to say there; you either love U2 or you tolerate them. Plenty of their newest album, No Line on the Horizon, was featured, and just enough of the old standards to keep the diehards happy. The only song I missed was "In the Name of Love," but you can't have it all.

The unique stage design meant that every band member, even Larry the drummer, could walk among the crowd at some point. And the videography meant we could see their fingers framing the chords and beating the rhythms, and watch Bono's face as he danced and spun around the stage. Bono is a performer. There is no other word for it. If anyone can explain to me why he is so compelling, even when he's no bigger than a matchstick from my vantage point, I welcome the insight.

I'll be the first to tell you about the wonders of live performance: sharing air, experiencing community, seeing something that will never be quite like that ever again. You can get that experience in your local black box theater or the largest of symphony halls. But there is something unusual about a crowd of more than 50,000 singing together. And it was magical when Bono, who had been conducting the crowd through "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," gently took the microphone back from us and began segueing into "Stand By Me." Try it. You'll see how the two songs can follow each other. Later, mid-set, he strode downstage with a guitar and gave us "Amazing Grace." I'm pretty sure a collective chill ran through the crowd.

As the show wound toward the end, it became unapologetically activist, and I sensed in the show a healthy appreciation for the irony that, while we rocked out on a cool night in Oklahoma, the themes and tragedies of the songs we sang were real for many around the world.

In truth, the only thing really missing from this show (other than a larger crowd, which I was hoping for) was context. In an article in Rolling Stone, Bono spoke of performing the show in Zagreb, Croatia, where just a few years before, humans had been visiting upon other humans the worst kinds of atrocities. As soon as I read those words, I knew the show, deep in the middle of America, where most of us are lucky enough not to know real fear, would not have the same impact as it did there.

But despite that, I will still hold this concert up as one of the most incredible nights of live entertainment I've been lucky enough to experience. From the friendly Kansan ladies behind us to the "human traffic" line outside the gate, the whole evening held magic for me, and the more hours that pass, the more I realize how much this one will stick with me.

PS: The 10+ hours in the car with a good friend brought a great many laughable moments, which I'll have to discuss later. I've got some more thinking to do.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Positions of power

On Friday, an email arrived from one of my staff. It was a singing e-card for Bosses Day. My awesome team then took me out for sushi. Did I know it was Bosses Day? Nope. But it sure was a nice surprise.

Which got me thinking. About being a boss. And how, now that I am one, I would say it's harder to be a boss than an employee. However, when I was an employee...the reverse was probably true. But now, I find myself lying awake asking such unanswerable questions as: "Are my staff engaged in their jobs? I think they are, but maybe they're just pretending to be..." or "I think I have a great relationship with my staff, but what if they are just blowing smoke up my ass to make their lives easier? What if after work they get together and bemoan how much of a pain I am?" or "am I challenging them enough? Or too much?" or "is that bad mood related to home or job?" and on and on and on.

This, of course, led me to wonder how many people in the world find themselves sending Bosses Day cards to bosses that they absolutely despise. Are there cards out there that, played backwards, tell bosses how their employees REALLY feel? There should be.

And I hope to God I never get one.


Here are two things you never want to hear from the person waxing your eyebrows:

1. Did it rain last night? I didn't sleep at all, and I didn't hear any rain...
2. I suppose I should put on my glasses so I can see what I'm doing. They're new, you see, and I'm not quite used to them...

I should have bolted from the chair, but I was helpless under the power of the tweezers and hot wax. So if you notice that my eyebrows are crooked or something, just keep it to yourself, ok?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why book signings are not all they've cracked up to be

God love David Sedaris. The man is on a 36 day tour of 37 cities (or maybe it's the other way around), and after speaking for more than 90 minutes, he is likely STILL sitting in the lobby of Walton Arts Center, signing books, chatting with people, brightening their rainy evening.

Which is why it pains me to say: I think I dislike book signings.

I've attended two signings in the last few weeks. The first was fine. James Patterson was gracious, smiled, nodded, signed my book, and the line kept moving. Now I have a signed James Patterson book, which I suppose is cool. I forgot about it within a few hours. No big deal.

However, a signing with David Sedaris is another matter entirely. He talks to everyone. In fact, this evening, our line didn't move for about 20 minutes because he was talking to the first people in line. For the entire 20 minutes. As 20 minutes stretched to 30, I could feel my stomach dropping. I snuck a peek at the Walton Arts Center twitter feed...people were gleefully tweeting about the witty and involved conversations they'd had with Mr. Sedaris. And I knew, I just knew, that I was sunk.

I'm not one of those people who can have a bright and interesting conversation with total strangers. I tend to say weird things, making leaps between thoughts that make no sense whatsoever if you're not in my head. And situations like tonight just depress me; I mean, if he can talk to one couple for 20 minutes, they must be really interesting. I'm not. I can't think of a single interesting thing to say, and if I think the interesting thought ahead of time, it will not be remotely funny or interesting when I actually say it. Everyone knows that planned humor falls flat unless you're a comedian.

Add to this the fact that I was standing in line with nearly a dozen books, only one of which was mine, and you have a recipe for awkwardness. Bless David's heart, he gamely signed my books, tried to engage me in conversations about the Ozarks, and even asked if I had a dog or a cat so he could draw me a picture. I could practically hear him mentally running through his "questions to ask when the person who's book I'm signing isn't interesting" list. Someone, get this girl an ounce of wit and charm, would you?

So, combine the relatively uninspiring James Patterson signing (the best part of which was that I felt no obligation other than to say thank you, clutch my book to my chest, and head for the door), with the forced cheeriness of this one, and you understand why I'm not a fan of signings. I think, in the future, I'll leave them to those who enjoy them.

But hey, I've got a signed David Sedaris book. Lest you think I'm a total grump, that actually is pretty cool. And I really, really appreciate that he is probably STILL signing books right now. That's...in a word...generous.

PS: I wish I'd asked him to sign my IPhone, which is the only place I've actually "read" one of his (audio)books. I would have found that funny, even if no one else did.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Red Sox are losing...

...and the good mood I was in yesterday has gone the way of the sunshine.

It's raining like cats and...well...really hard tonight. We had tornado sirens going off and everything. I confess that seeing all the facebook status updates about friends hunkering with their families in hallways and basements made me sad that I was by myself for the weather drama. Storms are more fun when they are shared.

Remember how I said I had plans for moving? Nix those, thanks to my current "landlord" (which is a massive management company; I knew I'd pay for selling out to the man at some point). Breaking my lease, they inform me, requires me to pay another 4 months of rent. This despite the fact that I have been a superb tenant for 4 YEARS...yes FOUR YEARS, and they recently filled my building with college-aged boys who smoke, blast their music and pee in the bushes. And lets not forget that for 4 months I couldn't walk down the sidewalk because they wouldn't trim those bushes. Grrrrr...

Anyway, today was a tough day for much more important reasons. My Leadership Fayetteville class had "Social Services" day; I have dubbed the day "Be glad your life doesn't suck" Day. Amid the tear-jerking stories of homelessness, poverty and disabilities, we visited a house for children age 18 months to 6 years who are the victims of sexual and physical abuse. Sitting at their little tables to share lunch, chatting with them about costumes and their opinions on pizza, feeling like a giant person in the face of that tininess, I got swept into just how precious and vibrant those kids are. It wasn't until I was on the bus leaving that I truly internalized why they were there; someone ABUSED them. Barely more than a foot tall, brimming with cuteness, and some asshole man or woman hurt them. In moments like that, I wonder why we consider ourselves to be the superior race.

Later, we visited a Women's Shelter and were informed that 1 in 5 people (women? I'm not sure) are the victims of abuse. There were 9 women in the room. We were all doing the math.

And the Red Sox are STILL losing. I think it's time for me to call it a day.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Back to the funny...

I'm swearing off serious posts for a while. Time to get the funny back. Therefore...

For those who remember Tad and Fritz, the ducks in my pond, I have depressing news to report. Their attempts to conceive have come to naught. If you want to have a bit of fun, give some thought to the concept of duck couples/fertility counseling.

Many of you probably heard this one on my facebook account, but about a week ago I rounded the corner to my apartment and discovered a neighbor peeing in the bushes. He caught sight of me, and gawsh, did he zip and disappear in a hurry. Good thing it was dark and I didn't see his face, because keeping mine straight would be tough. That was the proverbial straw, and I have sent that camel to the hospital with my plans to move out as soon as I can. More on that soon.

David Sedaris is coming to town soon. And I'm pretty sure he's promoting a book brought to us by the folks that do The Onion, which has been making me guffaw into the quiet of our office over these last days with headlines like "The Struggling Cleveland Zoo Hosts an All-You-Can-Eat Penguin Fundraiser," and "Struggling Museum Now Allowing Patrons to Touch Paintings." But my personal favorite is: "Relationship Not a Power Struggle, Woman Who's Winning Reports."

I ordered a CD from Amazon the other day (yes, sometimes I actually like to have the actual CD, gasp!), and when it arrived, I eagerly fought my way through the irritating packaging, discarded the crappy merchandise-selling flyers, and put it into the CD player on my computer. Imagine my surprise when I hear, instead of the first bars to a Broadway-type show tune, the dulcet tones of Michael Jackson. As someone who's burned many a CD in my software development days, I know its possible to mislabel a CD, but...really? Michael Jackson? I wonder what it says about my music taste that no one has caught the mistake before now...

(Ethical question of the day: Do I download the Michael Jackson songs to I Tunes before returning the CD? I have chosen not to. Lame or right? You decide.)

Today at BodyCombat, I broke down laughing mid-class because I could not get my left/right legs/arms coordinated. The whole class was going one way, I the other, and the really sad thing is I didn't notice for half the song. Thank goodness I have learned to laugh at myself. I'd spend a lot of time weeping if I didn't.

Well, my quest to find the funny was only marginally successful, I'd say. I'm out of practice; too much political thinking and pondering the world. I'll do better next time.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

From Navy SEALs to Alex Cross

Today's blog is about books and authors - two very different authors from different genres, yet strangely connected.

Last night, while I was watching a TIVO'd version of NCIS: Los Angeles, a bunch of terminology about Navy SEALs was bandied about. Coincidentally, I knew what Hell Week and swim buddy and BUD/S meant, because I'd literally just finished an amazing book called The Lone Survivor. Apparently this book was a huge hit back in 2007, but somehow I missed it. I'm not sure why I picked it up at the library, but I am so glad that I did.

To say this book is harrowing is weak, about as weak as Marcus Luttrell, the author and recently retired Navy SEAL, made me feel as he told his story. It's riveting, heartbreaking, and inspiring, and when I finished it, I felt what can only be described as patriotic sadness: a mixture of awe, gratitude and pride that men like the SEALs are out there, and sadness that they have to be.

Mr. Luttrell has a lot of anger against the liberal media, and many of his readers seem to think that it was a triumph of "America" over liberalism when the book made it to #1 on the NYTimes bestseller list. I don't get that, but I believe Mr. Luttrell is largely justified; I wanted to kick my TV when I read that the media was proclaiming him dead before the Navy had. He also has a love for Texas that I don't understand, being a jaded Northerner, but I cried hardest when I read about the roar that went up at the Luttrell's Texas ranch when the word came back that he had survived.

I do think Mr. Luttrell missed a theme in his tale, however. The death of his comrades occurred in a vicious firefight with the Taliban, brought on, we are led to believe, by the fact that Mr. Luttrell and his teammates made the decision to let unarmed civilians live. Those unarmed civilians, it is assumed, alerted the Taliban, thus precipitating the battle.

Later, Mr. Luttrell is rescued by Pashtun Afghani villagers, who could very easily have turned him over to the Taliban. They chose to let him live, and to defend him with their lives. The parallel seemed obvious to me; but it wasn't discussed. It's probably just my naivete leaking through, but I wish it had been.

On the heels of this soul-searching read, this morning I listened to a talk by James Patterson, author of the Alex Cross books and, I learned to my delight, a whole host of other books that I will enjoy reading over the next few weeks.

Mr. Patterson was sarcastic, funny and opinionated; when asked if he worries that people will copycat the horrible crimes he creates in his books, his "no" was firm, and followed by the following quote (paraphrased, but as accurate as I can make it): "Listen, the book that has inspired the most serial killers is the Bible. I don't know what we do with that." The room gasped and might have booed, but he was off into his next joke, and for the moment, it was forgotten.

But I won't forget it. It reminds me of something Mr. Luttrell said in his book, about how so much death and destruction has been visited on the world in the name of Islam. And like Mr. Patterson said, "I don't know what we do with that." But I do know this: I am lucky that the SEALs and other service men and women are fighting for me and my freedoms. And I'm also lucky that authors like Mr. Patterson are fighting a different battle, teaching kids to read and think for themselves. I want to believe its the same fight. Naive? Perhaps. But I'm sticking to it.