Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Karin Allyson: A singer I wish I liked better

I've been listening to Karin Allyson on CD's for years, her voice a tart sorbet.  Raspberry will do. With a yearning sweet undercurrent. I was going to compare it to a well-aged cheddar, but somehow there's nothing complimentary about a cheese simile when describing a singer.  And she is quite a singer. She is a trained musician, like so many singers, she plays piano and from what I read, she got into singing as a way to help finance her musical education.

Even though she sings originals (not too memorable), bluesy things, well-aged pop like Paul Simon (there's that well-aged again), and assiduously finds off-the-beaten-path songs, I only sit up straight for her Brazilian and jazz numbers.  Brazilian suits her like a glove and most of the jazz tunes especially, as there is some room for the unexpected, the discovery, the new, in other words.

I finally got to hear her in person, at the venerable Blue Note, with a trio that was serviceable but not exciting (read:  where's the unexpected, the discovery, the new?)  And on the night I heard her, at least, she was professional, but I kind of suspect she was phonin' it in.  Well, the poor woman looked tired. Her sharp spiked heels, black leather skintight pants, helmet hair and sharp shoulders were battle-hardened but not about to take on more than she had to.

She is a very very good musician, with chops to spare, but it is the deep-sea diver that she could be and was not, that left me wanting more.      

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Riffing on Whiplash: The trouble with movies that are ideas about art

     So I'm an artist (words) who loves artists who work in other media - visual, aural, multimedia.
Love and need music, especially American multi-cultural improvisational music.  OK, let's call it jazz. But anything deeply soulful will do.
     To Whiplash, which I saw last night.  The idea excited me:  a young jazz drummer confronted by a perfectionist teacher who tears him up and rebuilds him into fiery greatness.  Interesting premise.
     Flawed in conception and on the screen.
     The super-verbal bad-ass alchemist/teacher musician.
     The nonverbal (drums are his language) young man who kinds of acts like he's on the autism spectrum.
     Quick turns by his father, who is devoted and kind to him, but....has the terrible flaw of not "making it" as a writer financially, so has to become that dreadful thing, a teacher (note to screenwriters of Whiplash:  like 95% of serious writers depend on another way to make a living), and by a pallid short-term girlfriend.
     Constant filler of excellent young musicians in the band, all ignored by bad-ass teacher of the band, who saves his wrath for drummers, especially our hero.
      The idea, basically, is that drummer Jo Jones threw a cymbal at young Charlie Parker once, and this caused Charlie Parker to become great.  Therefore, the bad-ass teacher throws, curses, denigrates, insults, jeers, and fires young hopeful drummers in front of their bandmates, this in order to make them either great, or destroy them for not being great.  Coincidentally, our young drummer idolizes Buddy Rich, a drummer who routinely threw things, cursed, denigrated, jeered at and fired many musicians on his bandstand.  I can say this because I had a boyfriend who was a musician in the Buddy Rich Band and saw this with my own eyes.  I was,by the way, also denigrated by Buddy Rich.
But anyway, my main gripe here is that why would a budding drummer genius pick Buddy Rich as his idol?  When there was/is:  Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, and so on and so on.  I think Buddy Rich was a schmuch. (sic)
      Along the way, our young drummer:
1.Consistently bleeds for his art, onto his drum kit.  
2. Has a car accident when he's speeding to a gig, is hit by a truck head on, but staggers out of the turned-over car, bleeding, runs to the gig, bleeds again on the kit.  And gets fired by the monster teacher.
3.  Kind of cracks up but doesn't do drugs, just isolates.  Wanders into a little jazz club in the Village one night where the monster teacher (now fired for his outrageous abuse of students, thanks secretly in part to our hero drummer), and lo!  The asshole teacher is the pianist of a quartet, playing sensitive sounds a la Bill Charlip (bit of a reach).  Then of course they have the rapprochement.
4.  Ends up playing his ass off (actually hogging the band's time) at Carnegie Hall, demonstrating his genius, but more importantly, that Jo Jones was right-on.

    Moral:  Chew up the good to get the great out.
    Naw, I can't see it.         

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Blood on the teeth II

   When I was a cub writer back in the 70's, I met an Irishman with prematurely silver hair who
got himself up at 5 a.m. each morning in his little apartment in the city before going off to a tiresome day gig as a clerk.  This was his holy time, and the time he dreaded too, when he rolled a clean white sheet into the typewriter, a mug of tea beside him, and began to write.  He had come up in the desperate poverty of the Irish 40's and 50's, his da a working man who drank his pitiful wages away. 
    "250 words a day, that's a good day of writing," the Irish writer said to me. 
    "But that's only one page!"
    "One page that is the truest thing I can make of it.  It's as hard as breaking rocks," he said.

    Yes, he's right, my Irish friend.  I no longer care so much if there's wit or sparkle in my writing. Over the years, my writing has been hammered and whittled, and I've been beset by a
  sense of the near-miss, the almost there. Now what I'm writing (the new book, The Bad Dream Notebook), is hard, it's hard on me, it tears at me sometimes. I want to write the truth and the truth has changed for me.  And the truth is still so often just around the next bend, the next scene, the new character.

    Yet I've always loved writing, it clears a channel through me and it sets me free.
    Good hard labor.  Like breaking rocks.  Or as another writer said, like getting blood on the teeth.

     Have I also mentioned that it's great fun, this writing game?    

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How many more writers do we need writing about getting plastered?

Answer: As many as have good stories to tell. My personal favorite addiction tale from the last ten years is the second volume in the Patrick Melrose series,by Edward St. Aubyn. Don't let the name put you off, my fellow Americans. E St. A. gets down and funky in New York chasin' that train. No idea how autobiographical the story of a desperate junkie (wait: Is there any other kind?)is,though clearly, E St. A. has been pretty close up and personal. The reason I love this series (and especially, Volume II) so much is because the humor is wicked and relentless. Yes, it's English cerebral, but the guy is funny. I had already written the nut of "Cleans Up Nicely" when I read E. St. A. and I went back into the mss., sliced as much lugubrious fat out as I could and sifted in more of my wayward take on reality. Really grateful to him for reminding me of the Puck who's always waiting in the wings. Conclusion? Addiction, we already know, is painful, nasty, bad bad bad. Those of us who are lucky to survive have a high tolerance for the ridiculous. Visit an open A.A. meeting and watch people holding their sides as they listen to the pratfalls.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The lazy blogger - re-energized by two new books!

     Heaven for a writer could be defined as having deadlines for two books at once.  Also hell.  And that's what I have been doing for some time.  The books are very different. Cleans Up Nicely  is a novel revisiting the New York of the 70's - decadent, dirty, dangerous and also exploding with creativity along with the craziness. Loving Our Addicted Daughters Back to Life is a guide for parents and loved ones of young adult women who have some kind of substance-abuse problem and for the first time, tells this audience about the great new research in gender medicine in understanding and treating addiction in women.
   Cleans Up comes out in August of 2013!!! Loving our Addicted Daughters is being shopped.
They both explore the particular dangers and destructiveness of female addiction in totally different ways, which I didn't set out to do, but of course, now see was my subconscious drive. I am a woman addict, I have been there, and I know what happens after you clean up, the tango of recovery.  And even after 36 years clean (yup), the dance goes on.  Keeps you limber and alert.   

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Book Review: "The Red Book"

OK, call me snarky, but it seems there's a new category in fiction,which I'll call "high chick lit." "The Red Book" is crammed with cringingly overly self-satisfied characters. Basically, the plot is they can nevah get ovah their young Harvad-educated selves. So instead of the unblinkingly honest character probes by the undeniably well-educated author (Harvard-educated), we have a bunch of privileged Forty-something's mixing and matching during a 20th reunion. How I longed to be able to relate to just one, just one of them. All right, not longed, but it sure would have made turning the pages less of a guilty summer timewaster. Why I am being so hard on the author? Because she has talent and she decided to write a made for t.v. movie book instead. Next time out, I hope she doesn't go for the easy fix.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Blood on the teeth: every writer should have the stain

I'll never forget the wonderful series (BBC), "The Singing Detective" by the wonderful writer Dennis Potter, whose physical sufferings (psoriatic arthritis - unbearable pain and itchings) offered him, in his own words, a rebirth. He felt free to write whatever he wanted and he did! It was Potter who said (and meant it) that every writer should have blood on the teeth. Anyone who has given or witnessed birth knows what a bloody chaotic mess it is.
I came across Potter's words recently and they stopped me cold. Since I'm writing a novel about the messiness of grief, addiction, longing and fear, I checked my teeth in the mirror: Yup. Good: a few red specks there.
About my latest book, a novel, "Gringa in a Strange Land." Set in Mexico in the early '70's, a(n American) female on-the-road adventure, a coming of age tale, but also a kind of love letter to southern Mexico, especially the Yucatan, during the tempestuous counterculture and - many of us thought - the edge of a new era throwing off repression, war and dictatorship (man, were we wrong.)