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September 27, 1999 - #99
I feel like we need some daring-do in this column. Unfortunately, my "do" is hardly daring. It is a perfectly normal "do". Perhaps I'll go to my beloved hairdresser Teddy and have him give me a new "do", one that is not only daring but one which will also have people staring and glaring as if I were a herring. Speaking of herring, I attended Cousin Lori and her husband Zach's Yom Kippur "break the fast" party. Cousin's Dodo and Marvin were there along with other assorted family types. I attended this event with my actual brother, who had not been to a family event of any type for many years. I, of course, will go to any event of any type (except Times Roman). We all had a fine time and Cousin Stephen (not Sondheim) even spoke to me for the first time in six years. The food was especially lovely, with herring bits in sour cream and onions, turkey wheels from Gelson's Market, noodle kugel, bagels and lox, and egg salad with caviar. Cousin Lori was pregnant and so was Cousin Stephen's wife. Interestingly, Cousin Lori's husband Zach's mother is a huge fan of the musical theater and could not stop talking about her favorite shows, which, as I recall, didn't include any by my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim. A good time was had by all and many Ziplock bags of leftovers were taken home by the attendees.
I cannot get motivated with this particular column. All I can think about is next week's column. All I can think about is ham chunks and cheese slices and shrimp bits on toast. And yet, here I am trying to write this column to no avail whatsoever. I wish I had some avail, but I don't, so there you are. There is simply no avail available. So here I sit like so much unmotivated fish typing words which become sentences and sentences which become paragraphs and paragraphs which become more paragraphs. For example, I just wrote an entire paragraph about not being motivated to write an entire paragraph.
Now we have a brand spanking new paragraph and not a minute too soon if you ask me. Perhaps I'll sing the Song of the Volga Boatman.
There. I have now sung three choruses of the Song of the Volga Boatman and let me tell you that is two and a half choruses too many. Oh, what to do, what to do. Perhaps I should sing The Miller's Son. Yes, that is a fine idea.
There. I just did a splendid rendition of The Miller's Son bringing out every nuance of music and lyric and bringing Petra to vivid life. Wait a minute. I just sang that whole song to no avail, no avail whatsoever, because you can't hear me. This is a column (barely) for God's sake. We don't have sound files or wav files or whatever the hell they're called. Nooooooo, Mr. Mark Bakalor has not provided us with sound files or wav files or, for that matter, streaming video or mpegs or avis. I don't know what any of those things are but I feel we must have them because we must keep up with technology. I sang The Miller's Son for naught. No one heard me except the bird outside. You remember the bird, don't you, dear readers? Here is an activity photo of the bird for those who may not remember the bird.
Last night I had a nightmare. I dreamed a dream, dear readers, and it was a horrifying dream. I dreamt that bad people had broken into my home. I have had variations on that dream for as long as I can remember. Anyway, in my dream, I was lying in bed and I heard the bad people in the other room. I tried to yell out but I couldn't. No sound issued forth. Then I thought of the bright idea to blink the lights in my bedroom thereby alerting my neighbor. My neighbor blinked his lights back thinking we were having a game. I finally managed to yell which sent the uncouth interlopers a-running. I then got up and went into my den to see what they'd stolen. They hadn't stolen anything. They'd merely set up a folding table and chairs for a card game. Peculiar behavior for bad people, but there you are. I went back to bed, although suddenly I was in a different bedroom in a different house (one I hadn't lived in in years). I couldn't fall asleep, so I got up. I went to the den, which was now a living room, overlooking the beach. Not only overlooking the beach but actually on the boardwalk with no wall, just a rope to keep onlookers from coming in to the living room. This was just too too surreal, so I went back to bed and this time fell asleep. Within minutes the bad people were back and I tried to pick up the phone and call the authorities but the bad people ran in and yanked the phone out of the wall. Again, I tried to yell and yell and finally all this yelling actually woke me up. Wasn't that a strange dream? The only thing missing from the dream was the bad people singing the Song of the Volga Boatman in Castilian.
I hope none of you are out there celebrating prematurely. We are on the honor system here, as I have no way of knowing for certain if you are out there celebrating prematurely. Perhaps everyone can set up a roomcam like they have on certain types of websites and send me live streaming video of themselves not celebrating prematurely. Yes, I think we need some live streaming video in this here column, Mr. Mark Bakalor. I think we need sound files and wav files and mpegs and avis. We need to download and upload and sidewaysload. I feel we don't have nearly enough loading going on in this column.
Well, I suppose I've managed to get through the first section of this here column even though I am totally unmotivated on account of being impatient to get to our next column so that we can celebrate maturely and eat our various foodstuffs and wear our guilty party outfits. I feel we should all wear marabou feathers whilst we celebrate, so if any of you out there have marabous go pluck them posthaste. Speaking of plucking perhaps it's time to pluck this section of the column right here and now and also right now and here, because frankly this section of the column is starting to resemble the sets for Scarlet Pimpernel III: Downsized and a little cheap. But enough about me.
Recently I was asked a very interesting question: What, in your opinion, makes a good song? I thought to myself, that's an easy one. And as I began to answer I realized it was, in fact, a very difficult question to answer.
First of all, any answer to that question is going to be highly subjective. Not lowly subjective, mind you, but highly subjective. One person's good song is another person's horrible song. For example, I think everyone here is pretty aware that, with a couple of exceptions, I don't think much of the songs from Rent. And yet, there are many who love the songs from Rent, many who find the songs from Rent great examples of songwriting. So you see, what we have here is a good song conundrum.
To me, a good song is a song with a perfect meld of music and words; music that takes me places, that gets to me emotionally, whose harmonic structure connects with me, whose form works for what the song is trying to say and whose notes lay perfectly on the words. Obviously, songs fall into many categories. Pop songs, art songs, theater songs, opera arias, etc. And what makes a pop song good wouldn't necessarily make a theater song good. So you see how tough the question really is. For instance, there was a song written in the 70s which was sung by Art Garfunkel and which also had a recording by its author, Tim Moore. The song is entitled Second Avenue and the first time I heard it I fell in love with it. I thought it was a great song. But is it a great song? The lyric is sloppy, it has bad rhymes and the words don't always sit on the music comfortably. The music, on the other hand, is pretty terrific. Somehow, the combination of those words on that music really connected with me. I couldn't stop playing that song, couldn't get that song out of my head for weeks. So, to me, that song achieved everything its author set out to achieve. If you compare it to a Sondheim song it becomes apparent that it's not very good, isn't sophisticated, isn't clever and doesn't have incredible wordplay, But so what? Sondheim songs are crafted for the musicals they are in, written for specific characters to sing. While I find Every Day A Little Death and The Road You Didn't Take to be two of the finest songs ever written, I suspect that most non-theater lovers would just listen to them and think, "What is it, fish?" And here's another interesting point: The fellow who asked me the question is French. He thinks many American songs are great but isn't hearing the words to them in the way we hear the words. They are either translated into French or he's trying to understand them as best he can in a language that is not his native tongue. And yet, the songs connect. When I was a teen I loved the song Sealed With A Kiss by Brian Hyland. I wished I could write something that good. Now, is Sealed With A Kiss a great song? I don't know. It worked for me and I loved it. Same with When I Fall In Love and others that I've already written about in past columns. Is One Boy from Bye, Bye Birdie a good song in the same way that Send In The Clowns is a good song? Probably not, and yet I love them both. Is You Gotta Have Heart a good song in the same way that I'm Still Here is a good song? Same deal. Is an aria from Madame Butterfly great in the same way that Ricky Nelson's Poor Little Fool is great? No, but I bet I've listened to Poor Little Fool a hundred times more than any Puccini aria. One can be intellectual and say, well, a Sondheim song has great form, perfect words, brilliant music and Poor Little Fool has simple words, simple music and is basically a dopey 50s pop song. But the love of a song is not an intellectual thing. So, for me, it's possible to think of Poor Little Fool and Anyone Can Whistle in the same breath (no mean feat). I don't even remember what my point was, because this whole issue of what is a good song is mighty confusing. I know, for example, that Make Believe from Showboat is considered a great song. I don't like it. I don't hate it, but to me it just sits there like so much fish and does absolutely nothing for me. I like almost everything else in the Showboat score, and Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man Of Mine is, to me, a great song, one of my all time favorites. It's all apples and oranges or peaches and grapes or Gouda and cheddar or walnuts and cashews. I do realize I have totally not answered the question of what makes a good song because I think, basically, it's a question with way too many possible answers, all of which may or may not be correct depending on who's doing the answering.
Did anyone notice how I kept referring to Poor Little Fool? I loved that song. I remember the night Ricky Nelson sang it on the Ozzie and Harriet Show. The next day I ran to my local Daylight Market where they sold 45s and I purchased it immediately. I played it over and over on my cute little handy-dandy 45rpm record player. I suppose one could divide and subdivide the question of what is a good song into different categories, but it would still be next to impossible to answer. Have you ever been next to impossible? I prefer possible because frankly impossible is a little unkempt for my taste. What the hell am I talking about? Oh yes, what makes a great song and how the hell am I supposed to know? Oh, wait a minute, I've just gotten an e-mail. Let's see who it's from, shall we?
I know that you are having great difficulty finding an answer to the question of what makes a good song and I believe I can help. I, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, write nothing but good songs (well, they're great songs, but you've used the word "good" therefore so will I). One good song after another. Look no further than me in your search for what makes a good song. I Don't Know How To Love Him? Good (read great) song. Music of The Night? Good (read great) song. Memory? Good (read great) song. Are you getting my drift? Even Stephen Sondheim thinks I write great songs. Why else would he appear at my birthday bash if that wasn't so? I am very excited to read your upcoming 100th column which, according to you, will contain surprises and revelations. I know your menu items for the celebration, and might I suggest you add some fatty meats to the selection. We English love our fatty meats especially if they are boiled. Yes, boiled fatty meats, that's the ticket, dear boy. By the way, I've decided to put aside my sequel to Phantom of The Opera. I was trying something new with it, writing it in a quasi blues, quasi neo-classical, quasi rap way, but while all the songs were, of course, good (read great), the whole thing was beginning to smell like a floating piece of dog dropping. Well, I must away. It's time to watch my DVD of Cats again. I never tire of it. I wrote it, you know. Awfully choice and filled with good (read great) songs by me.
All best to my fans,
So, I was in the frame of mind to go to the framers and get some things framed and to pick up a couple of things I had framed last week. We choose the frames for the new stuff. They show me the stuff I had framed last week. I write them a check for said stuff. I leave the store and go on my merry way. What's wrong with this picture? Well, I'll tell you what's wrong with this picture, dear readers. This picture has no frame, that's what's wrong with this picture. I left my newly framed pictures in the shop. That's right, you heard it here, dear readers, I went to pick up my framed pictures, I paid for my framed pictures and then left my framed pictures in the shop while I went on my merry way. I now have to drive back to the framers, pick up my framed pictures which I already went to pick up and go on my merry way all over again. How many times can I go on my merry way? This having to drive all the way back to the framers is a pain in the buttcheeks, dear readers, not to mention redundant in the extreme, but drive back to the framers I must. The rest of the column is now going to have to wait until I get back from the framers where I will now pick up the framed pictures I already went to pick up. I am beginning to think that the premise of The Matrix is true this is not the real world we are living in and someone is having sport with me, manipulating my world with sound files and wav files and mpegs and avis. Well, I shall continue anon. And no celebrating prematurely, either.
Miss Meryle Secrest has been making noises, dear readers. She wants to know, in advance, what all these surprises and revelations in the upcoming column will be. She is being very pushy about this. She calls five or six times a day about this. She has sent me some peanut brittle in hopes that this will soften me up. But she has erred, because peanut brittle is hard so how can it soften me up? Marshmallows might have softened me up but I guess Miss Meryle Secrest didn't have her head on straight. She had her head on crooked and that is a frightening thing to see. In any case, I will not reveal any surprises and revelations in advance. Why, that would be premature and we can't have that, now can we? In the meantime, she was intrigued by my story of my actual Hollywood Screen Test and my inference that I eventually got a job in the Motion Picture and Television Industry as an actual performer. The fact that I was given a job in the Motion Picture and Television Industry was intriguing to me too, as well as baffling. Why anyone would want to give me a job in the Motion Picture and Television Industry was/is beyond me. But give me a job they did, as a guest star in an actual television series. Not the whole series, just one episode of the series. Yes, you heard it here, dear readers, I guest starred on an actual television program which was seen by actual viewers. This particular television series did not have a very long run. In fact, I did one of the final episodes. I was very nervous as I arrived for my first day on the set. The only other time I'd been before the camera was for my Hollywood Screen Test (unless you count the times when I was before my make believe cardboard camera at home). I couldn't believe the hustle and bustle and also the bustle and hustle of an actual Hollywood film set. There were so many people doing so many things. I was brought to a small trailer and was told this was my dressing room. Who knew I would have an actual dressing room? From there I was taken to the sound stage and plopped down in the makeup chair where actual makeup was put on my actual face. Oh, I looked splendid in my makeup if I do say so myself. I was then brought to the director (for whom I'd read and who, presumably, had cast me) who approved of my costume and makeup. I was then brought on to the set where I was introduced to the other actors; both the series regulars and the episode's other guest star, Mr. Gary Lockwood. For those who might not know, Mr. Gary Lockwood was/is a fine actor whose most famous appearance was in Mr. Stanley Kubrick's marvelous film, 2001: A Space Odyssey as one of the astronauts (the one who H.A.L. kills). I was thrilled to be acting with Mr. Gary Lockwood. He could tell I was very nervous and he took me under his wing for the entire week I worked and made me feel totally comfortable. The other person who made me feel totally comfortable was the wonderful dialogue director (the person who runs lines with the actors) Mr. Bobby Hoffman, who became a very good friend during the ensuing years. I was amused by the director of the episode because all he wanted to do was play "trivia" with me. He was very impressed by my trivia knowledge. I don't recall him ever giving me a direction, which was too bad because I needed all the direction I could get. Not only was it my first professional television job, but it was also a dramatic role, something I was simply not accustomed to doing. The other interesting thing for me was that I'd grown up loving the director because he'd hosted one of my favorite television programs, One Step Beyond. His name was John Newland and he was very urbane and witty. The other person I met during this time was an actor friend of Gary Lockwood's. His name was Christopher Connelly and he'd been a regular on the television series Peyton Place. Like Gary, he was very nice to me and very supportive, giving me words of advice about acting for the camera and telling me ways of hiding my nervousness. Gary, he and I went to lunch almost every day. The two of them were so generous that they made the week much easier than it would have been otherwise. I completed my work at the end of the week and said goodbye to everyone. They seemed happy with what I'd done. On the final day, the writer of the following week's episode visited the set, the wonderful sci-fi writer and curmudgeon, Harlan Ellison. He was most amusing and very caustic. Two months later, as I was about to start shooting my second television program (this time a pilot) the new TV Guide informed me that my television debut was going to air (there was my name right there in TV Guide I could not believe it). Some friends came over and down we sat to watch. Well, dear readers, I was mortified. I sat in benumbed silence and watched my horrendous performance. I was too big, I was unnatural, and I didn't even stand up straight. I was, in a word, a floating piece of dog dropping (well, that's several words, but they're so apt). Thank goodness I saw the show prior to shooting the pilot, because with that one viewing I had an entire course in what not to do when acting for the camera and it was a real lesson, I'll tell you that. And it paid off because I was much more natural and real in the pilot I shot the following week.
One side note (Eb): I saw Gary Lockwood several times over the years and we always laughed about that show and John Newland's obsession with trivia. And some eighteen years later I ran into Christopher Connelly. Now, I'd never ever forgotten how kind he was to me on that first show. Amazingly, he looked much the same, young and boyish, although his voice was very raspy. He came right up to me and said, "I don't know if you remember me, but I used to visit you on the set when you were doing your first guest shot". Well, I was totally bowled over by the fact that he remembered me from that one week eighteen years prior. We had a nice visit and then went our separate ways. Three weeks later I picked up Variety and read that Chris Connelly was dead, from throat cancer, at much too young an age. I don't know how many people remember him, but I certainly will never forget him and the way he befriended a very nervous young neophyte performer.
Remember, dear readers, we are very close to receiving our 2,000th letter and there will be a special brand spanking new handy-dandy prize for the lucky letter-writer. I cannot divulge what that prize is at this time but it will be a wonderful prize, of that there can be no doubt. In the meantime, let's answer this week's mail, shall we?
Larry saw Jekyll and Hyde in Hollywood this week. I'd heard that Jekyll was in Hollywood but that Hyde was in Pacoima. Who knew they were both in Hollywood, which was a good thing for Larry. He thought the show had some nice moments, along with some good direction and performances. But he did not like the over-miked overwrought score which he wanted to run and hyde from. He kept thinking what my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim, might have done with this tale had he not chosen Sweeney Todd. Here we have a perfect example of what makes or doesn't make a good song. I don't care for the score of Jekyll and Hyde either, but there are thousands upon thousands of people who swear by it. So, go know. Apples and oranges. Pinapple and kiwi. Fish and fish.
Elan had the pleasure of seeing the musical adaptation of Harry Longbaugh's No Way To Treat A Lady when it was done at the York Theater. He especially liked the performance of Miss Alix Korey, who played a variety of roles. Miss Korey is also well known for eating a variety of rolls, including the three Bs: Bagels, bialys and (sticky) buns.
S. Woody White tells me I got the initials of that Long Beach Theater company askew. Said initials are, in fact, ICT not ITC. ITC, if I remember correctly, was the name of Lord Lew Grade's production/releasing film company as if anyone could give a flying Wallenda.
Mrsmig is confused. Her confusion stems from the No Way To Treat A Lady trivia question. Mrsmig has performed in No Way To Treat A Lady, the musical, and does not remember the name Harry Longbaugh. Said confusion will clear up when we get to the trivia section.
Stephen (not Sondheim) feels that my writing style has "male" written all over it. First of all, isn't it hard to read my writing if the word "male" is all over it? Wouldn't the word "male" all over my writing just obscure all the words as if those words weren't obscure enough without the word "male" obscuring them further? I don't feel that my writing style has "male" written all over it, nor do I feel I have any writing style to write "male" over. Stephen feels I should let leak my true identity in our 100th column. Well, as we all know, our 100th column will have surprises and revelations but they may be hard to decipher as I might just write "male" all over them.
Zoe is trying to find a Follies In Concert video for her partner and can't. I believe it's out of print, but the best thing to do is check amazon.com as they seem to know about these things. Or try Footlight Records in New York, New York. Zoe also wants to know if Sweeney Todd will be coming out on DVD. I'd heard it was announced and that it would have a commentary track like Sunday In The Park With George. But I heard that over six months ago and have heard nothing about it since.
Jon B. writes to say that Polly Pen (she of Hobgoblin Market and Bed and Sofa) is also an actress and that she originated the role of Patty Simcox in the original version of Grease in Chicago. Grease in Chicago. I wonder if we can have Chicago in Greece? Just asking.
Mackoy is doing a play he doesn't like and asks if I have any advice for a reluctant actor to enjoy the experience. It is very difficult to make the best of being in a play you don't like, but you just have to focus on the character you're playing and do the best you can and learn from the experience whatever you can learn. Mackoy also asks why we don't get song parodies anymore. We had one but a few weeks ago, but I have been lax (xal spelled backwards), I admit it. They do take a while like that's an excuse. I shall simply have to go flog myself like Judge Turpin and then do some more parodies in a thrice.
Bob G. asks if we peruse the sure-to-be-published activity photos from the In Theater bash and certain people are in said photos, might one of those certain people turn out to be me? We'll just have to see those photos to know for sure, won't we?
Joey tells me that her school is doing Assassins as the surprise show. Does that mean that people think they're going to see Oklahoma! but the surprise will be that it's Assassins instead? That is a surprise indeed. I like that idea. Tell people they're going to see one show and then do something totally different. That would mess with their minds, wouldn't it, dear readers? That would keep those complacent theatergoers on their respective toes, wouldn't it, dear readers?
Well, well, well. There is simply no stumping you, dear readers. Last week's trivia question concerned one Harry Longbaugh, author of the wonderful novel No Way To Treat A Lady. The question was who is Harry Longbaugh. However, the question requires two answers. Many of you got one of the answers, but only three people, crow, Andrew and Bob G. got both. But, I'm going to give full credit to everyone because some of you may have assumed that knowing one answer meant you knew both. So the other correct guessers are j.c., riht, mrsmig, elan, Brepat and Arnold M. Brockman. The first part of the answer is: Harry Longbaugh was the real name of the outlaw known as The Sundance Kid. The second part of the answer is: Harry Longbaugh (author of No Way To Treat A Lady) was a pseudonym for author William Goldman (when the film came out he was credited under his own name). And, of course, Mr. Goldman went on to win an Academy Award for the screenplay to Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid which is a better title than Butch Cassidy and Harry Longbaugh.
This week's trivia question is courtesy of our very own Arnold M. Brockman. There is a film in which a character is named Sondheim. Name the film, the director of the film and the actor who played Sondheim.
Until next time, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...
Until next time, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...
Assassins is about how society interprets the American Dream, marginalizes outsiders and rewrites and sanitizes its collective history. "Something Just Broke" is a major distraction and plays like an afterthought, shoe horned simply to appease. The song breaks the dramatic fluidity and obstructs the overall pacing and climactic arc which derails the very intent and momentum that makes this work so compelling...
- Mark Bakalor
Which is not to say that it is perfect...
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