Short Story Published!
My short story, "The Missing Ingredient," is now available in digital and print form in the young-adult publication, Sucker Literary Magazine, volume 2. I was published in volume 1 last year and am again thrilled to contribute one of nine great stories featuring the most interesting people on the planet - teenagers. Sucker is available in paperback for $9.99 and in Kindle form for $3.99.
Song of the Week
Each week I feature one of my original compositions. Keep coming back, take a listen and enjoy. This week I'm featuring "Truth", a collaboration with Tricia Kositsky from our album Trainsongs.
Watching the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 last week, I couldn’t help but feel that I was watching ABCs movie-of-the-week in a theater. Sure, the acting was good (it was great to see Harrison Ford actually act instead of relying on smirks), the story is of course compelling – it practically begs to be filmed – and the film does a reasonably good job of telling the story. Chadwick Boseman and Nicole Beharie do fine as Jackie and Rachel Robinson (even when they have to spout cornball dialogue). What’s troubling is how unreal the film looks and feels. So little attention was made, aside from vintage cars and clothing, to make it feel like 1946-47. Instead, we get a polished version of the past.
No one sweats. Seriously. No one.
No one smokes. (For a sense of how smoking should be used in a period film, check out this scene from Good Night and Good Luck)
All clothing is new, clean and pressed. No dirt. No grime. No tatters, even of the clothing from kids in Florida, who I presume weren’t exactly rolling in the dough.
Everyone is beautiful (except for the bigots), from the lead characters to the woman who babysits the Robinson’s son.
Baseball jerseys, even after nine innings of play, are bleach-white. We only see dirt directly after Jackie dives or slides into a base.
All men are clean shaven or have neatly trimmed beards.
In short, it has the look and feel of The Truman Show or Pleasantville, except this isn’t supposed to be a farce of a 1950s sitcom. This is supposed to be a film dramatizing real life, not an antiseptic version of the past. Some directors are so careful to make films look realistic, but Brian Helgeland misses the boat on this one.
He also falls short on the screenplay. It’s amazing how the writer of such terrific films as Mystic River and LA Confidential managed to write such contrived, cornball dialogue. Maybe Jackie and Rachel Robinson really did have a marriage as strong as the one depicted in the movie, but it doesn’t make for good film. No arguments? About anything? Never anything mundane to say? Only perfectly executed love notes to each other? I’d put good money on the real-life Rachel Robinson actually being a full-fledged three-dimensional woman. Instead, Nicole Beharie does what she can with a two-dimensional script.
See the film, if only to watch it with your kids, as it may provide an education for them about racism and baseball’s tarnished past. But for the most part, the past has been polished in 42, keeping the story from ringing true. One has to wonder how good this film could have been in the capable hands of a filmmaker like Spike Lee.
Getting one’s news from television may seem like an antiquated idea: according to The Pew Rearch Center, just about a third of people younger than 30 are getting any of their news from TV. This is in stark contrast to the days of Brokaw, Jennings and Rather, when well over half of American’s watched news on television. My old roommate Scott and I used to say to each other at 5:30 each evening, “Time for Brokaw?” and tune in to NBC. How many people today can even name the three network news anchors? Can you? (full disclosure: I couldn’t. I forgot that Diane Sawyer is still doing ABC News). And if you do tune into the evening news, will you walk away with more information on prescription drug ads than you will actual news?
Despite the fall of television journalism, there are twenty minutes that I find well worth my time: the first segment of CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose and Nora O’Donnell.
Back in the day, CBS was the network to shy away from the fluff that NBC and ABC embraced so enthusiastically. Ratings suffered, and CBS news, both evening and morning, was relegated to third place for a long time. Perhaps it is in this spirit – the spirit of Dan Rather, who has accused today's reporters of needing a spine transplant – that CBS’s morning news has reinvented itself so effectively in the last year. After years of trying to compete with NBC and ABC, and after a long game of anchor musical chairs – remember names like Chris Wragge, Jeff Glor and Julie Chen? – CBS has finally settled on a lineup of Rose and O’Donnell. and interestingly, have as part of their mission, decided to focus on – get this – actual news. No more endless banter between anchors. No more meteorologists hamming it up with cheering fans on the street. No more cooking segments. Just news.
True, CBS This Morning still ranks third among the three major morning news programs, but it is the only one that’s growing. For a good article on the show and the philosophy of executive producer Chris Licht, click here.
My son and I have gotten into the habit of tuning into the first twenty minutes of CBS This Morning. No commercials. No lengthy interviews with talking heads. Just a quick summary of the seven or eight most important news items of the day, often with the benefit of CBS’s trump card, John Miller, who has to be among the most intriguing reporters on television. When there are news stories regarding law enforcement, as there have been lately, he alone makes it worth tuning in. Charlie Rose at times shows his age (71), but more often than not does the job he's known for: cutting to the chase by asking pointed questions. Nora O’Donnell does something few other anchors have the guts to do: re-ask a question after it isn’t answered the first time around. Jim Lehrer, take note.
So now, after my son and I get our news and weather (with no Al Roker!), we have breakfast and discuss the news items of the day.
Not a bad way to spend the morning.
Playing a solo show in front of a small audience in an intimate setting has got to be one of the most difficult tasks to pull off well. Last Friday, my daughters and I had the pleasure of seeing Sara Bareilles at one of the coolest venues I’ve ever been to: Milwaukee's Humphrey Scottish Rite Masonic Center Auditorium, a hall that seats 435 in an odd, miniaturized arena-like setting.
In the midst of a short solo tour to drum up support for her forthcoming album, The Blessed Unrest, Bareilles seems very much at ease in the more intimate setting, eager to exchange quips with fans, and exhibiting that rare quality of being witty while still coming off as appreciative and sincere.
Bareilles’s piano chops are adequate, not brilliant, and her guitar work is similarly restrained, but none of that really mattered, because the star of the show was her vocal work on top of well-crafted pop songs. She’s got some serious pipes, with far more dexterity and control that I could have anticipated. As she effortlessly glided above the chord progressions of her new tune, “Manhattan,” to a perfectly hushed audience, Bareilles’s voice reminded me of Nora Jones with more of an edge. Unlike Jones, Bareilles has just enough anger, as exhibited in songs like “Love Song” and “King of Anything,” to make her repertoire varied and interesting.
What I like about Bareilles, and what made me particularly eager to take my daughters to the show, is the strong nature of her lyrics. Rarely do you find a performer whose words are both positive yet unyielding, vulnerable yet confident. Even her angry songs don’t lash out at her victims. Instead, they reveal her strength, as if to say, “You’re simply not good enough for me.” Whether or not it’s been her intention as a performer, assisting girls and women to raise the bar in their love lives had been a fine byproduct of her career.
Her new song, “Brave,” co-written with Fun’s Jack Antonoff, couldn’t have a more fitting message, especially for teenagers: be who you are and don’t be afraid to speak out. It’s not filled with f-bombs. It doesn’t play the victim. It doesn’t lay blame. It just inspires.
Bareilles’s 90 minute performance left the small crowd happy, even after the odd encore of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” But in a way, her rendition of this classic song exemplified the entire evening: her sparse arrangement cultivated a more creative approach, allowing for minor tempo and harmonic modifications, not to mention adlibbed vocal parts, that resulted in just enough unpredictability to make the song sound new again.
No small feat.
Sara's new album is due out in July.
Producing a musical based on a movie based on a book, the 2003 film having only grossed $66 million domestically, ranking 43rd for that year, takes some serious chutzpah. The producers must have been sold on a huge leap of faith: that Big Fish is going to translate so well on stage compared to the film, it won’t need to rely on a built-in audience the way other musicals have (Dirty Dancing, The Lion King, The Addams Family, etc.). Watching one of the final performances of Big Fish’s pre-Broadway run in Chicago last evening in a mostly empty balcony, I got the sense that the show will need to be tweaked in order to fulfill its promise, and even that might not be enough. I actually enjoyed the show a great deal and was happy to have spent the money to see it. But spectacular stage sets with creative use of multimedia, superb acting and singing by the three leads, and some fine melodies aside, there are three improvements the musical needs to make before it debuts in New York in September.
First, the show could benefit from a few reprises to help ingrain the finer of composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa’s melodies into the audience’s minds. Some tunes are one-offs, pleasant little ditties that serve their purpose in one take (both ”I Know what you Want” and “Bigger” hit the mark beautifully), but others, most notably “This River Between Us” and “Daffodils,” could have benefitted from a reprisal, even if just in passing within a different tune. Motifs are important in musicals or in any other extended work, and Big Fish suffers without them.
Second, the ending of the first act, “Daffodils,” aims very high but falls just a bit flat. I could tell what they were going to do minutes before it arrived, and I sensed that they were attempted to hit the high mark set by musicals such as Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” or, more probable, Sunday in the Park with George, when Georges Seurat’s masterpiece is displayed in all its radiant glory, but the field of Daffodils didn’t provide the lift they were meant to. The result certainly can’t be classified as a Spinal Tap moment (when a miniature Stonehenge arrives on stage to the embarrassment of the band), but it should have made a bigger impact. This will need to be rectified in New York.
Third is most problematic. Like the film, the stage production of Big Fish lacks a plot. There is nothing particularly dramatic to move the story forward. A father with a penchant to tell tall takes and a son who wants to see the real man behind the stories don’t see eye to eye. Big deal. Additional conflict is required to keep the audience engaged. There is a reveal at the end of Act One that’s meant to advance the plot, but to me, it wasn’t terribly important or interesting. Suspected infidelity? From a son who already doesn’t respect his father? That’s hardly enough to fill a second act.
I’m not suggesting that the story be something it isn’t. For me, fictional works of realistic people in realistic situations are always more interesting than fanciful creations, so why not throw some additional tension into the story? Both of the wives, Sandra Bloom and Josephine Bloom, are left to play the role of supportive, one-dimensional characters: never bothered, always understanding, unrealistically wise. How about making them human? One or two additional scenes – a conflict between the son and his new bride, or between the son and his mother – would likely be enough to keep Big Fish from feeling like a day of casting on a calm lake.
Big Fish is clearly a labor of love for writer John August, Andrew Lippa and director Susan Stroman. A few more waves, or even a white cap or two, might be enough to turn this beautifully done production into a sustainable Broadway musical.
People from Munich take Michael Jackson very serious. How seriously?
It doesn’t matter if they're in a hurry or out for a Sunday stroll; folks in Munich will not cross the road until the light indicates “walk.” A person who is mugged across the street from a crowd of waiting pedestrians is out of luck.
For those who find stairs difficult, escalators are available. Working escalators, however, are optional. (I've been informed since I wrote this that they start when you approach them - a green energy thing. How embarrassing!)
When in a crowded restaurant, the word for pretzel, breze, can be mistaken for espresso. My first ever. It helped to counterbalance the four beers I’d had by that point.
You think that just because you were born on God’s Green Earth that you deserve water with your meal? For free?
Museums can actually be cheap and well-attended – even the obscure ones. Most cost about $8 to $10. Compare that with the Shedd Aquarium.
Bike helmets are for sissies. So, apparently, is head trauma.
The love affair with 80s music isn’t limited to Michael Jackson. It was pumped 24/7 in our hotel lobby, and I saw signs - real ones - for a Toto concert!
Mass transit really CAN work well in a city. Munich’s transportation system makes New York’s look like a Thomas the Tank Engine toy set. One fee per day for any subway, train, tram or bus you want to take. And no turnstiles! You ride on the honor system. Could this work in the United States? Hell, no!
Germans are tall.
It was comforting to know that none of the people I saw had anything to do with World War II. I’m not sure that I would have been able to travel in Germany twenty years ago.
In Munich, Whitesnake is the headliner to Journey's opener.
You really can ride your bike as a viable alternative to cars when 1) there are legitimate bike lanes near the sidewalk – not squeezed onto the road as an afterthought; and 2) bike racks are plentiful. Where I live, they keep pushing for more bikes, but you can’t find a bike rack to save your life, and it doesn’t really matter, because you’ll likely die before you get there.
How the heck do they shovel the cobblestone when it snows? How?
Trains are on time. Always.
In the Jewish Museum of Munich, various ritual items are displayed as if they were excavated from a cave of an ancient people from thousands of years ago and not a vibrant religion of today. How sad.
So many expensive stores packed on a weekday afternoon in April. Where do all the people come from? What do they do for a living?
Walking up the steps of St. Peter’s Church has physical ramifications that last for days.
Also in the Jewish Museum, a timeline of Jews in Munich is presented, showing key years in the 800 years Jews have lived there. About every hundred years it reads something like, “expelled” or “denied occupations other than moneylending” or “pogrom” or “murdered.” On and on until the mass murder of the 1940s. And now a majority of Jews living in Munich come from eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union, and I think, “800 years of persecution wasn’t enough of a reason for you to consider living elsewhere?”
Beer with lunch isn't just accepted, it's encouraged. Ah, now I get why displaced Jews came here. Mystery solved.