The Importance of Family Planning

•September 24, 2008 • Leave a Comment

If you can navigate a website, and read and follow this sentence, then you know that there is no single social or political concern that stands alone. Whether it’s the environment, the economy, foriegn policy or the arts, all of these issues are so intertwined that there is no way that you can take a stand on one issue alone without affecting many other issues around it, or finding a cause in these other issues.

Take family planning, for example. What does family planning really mean? Family planning means providing birth control and medical assistance to anyone who might have reproductive organs. This is a healthcare issue and a social issue. However, it feeds into environmental issues such as overpopulation. The economy isn’t immune, it certainly doesn’t need more mouths to feed, to put it lightly. Then we start getting into tax dollars for education versus tax dollars for war, and so on and so forth. Family planning, ultimately, is everyone’s issue, and it does affect aspects of your life about which you might be unaware. We’re all in this together, and until all of us are free and safe, none of us are free and safe.

My dear friend Elle has come up with a simple analysis of the situation. Let’s say you have five dollars. You could donate that five dollars to Planned Parenthood and do a good deed for people who don’t and/or do want to reproduce everywhere. You could even donate it in honor of Sarah Palin, and they will even send her a kind card letting her know that your five dollars has gone to ensure that more women do not end up following her shining example of preaching abstinence and breeding a softball team without thinking first. Elle has a Cafepress store that provides an analysis of the importance of family planning in a clear, concise way so that not only can you enjoy it, but also, you can share it with others. Every shirt on this cafepress store is marked up only $5 and sends that as a donation to Planned Parenthood, in honor of Sarah Palin. And Palin will get a little card in the mail, for each one.

Because, ultimately, funding for birth control now means more tacos for you later.

Thank you.

“Everybody’s got the right to some sunshine; not the sun, but maybe one of its beams…”

•September 13, 2008 • 1 Comment

For the record, I do not like musicals. I like drama.

I saw Assassins at the Wilmington Drama League, directed by Chris Turner, and I only had to eat some of that statement. I really did not want to do this, but I’m afraid I’ve seen a production of a Sondheim musical that compels me to tell you all about it, why it was electrifying and you should go see it.

Essentially, the whole conceit of Assassins is that the American experience is a game; striving to succeed, get a piece of the pie, realize your dreams. However, you and I (and, fortunately, Sondheim) all know that the rules of the game don’t affect everyone the same way, and a lot of people don’t succeed without cheating. A lot of people who try to play by the rules will get swept by the wayside. So the central issue of Assassins is this: The American experience is a game. You pay to play and shoot to win.

Traditionally, Assassins is presented in a carnival shooting gallery, and Sondheim’s music builds that world, suggesting American innocence tempered with hucksterism. Turner chose to set it in a reality TV show instead, lining the stage with video screens, using cameras onstage to strengthen the Ensemble’s relationship to the audience; everyone wants to be on TV, everyone wants to be in the spotlight, as they fight with each other to make sure everyone knows they saw or heard or was part of a little slice of history.

Sondheim includes actual and attempted presidential assassins in his tale; some win, some lose, but all of them yearn for something greater, to have the place in history that John Wilkes Booth took. Time, fortunately, is something Sondheim is able to play with masterfully; the plot is driven by dramatic intention, not by a ticking clock. Luckily this means we get to see John Hinkley and Squeaky Fromme sing a chilling, precise and pure duet to unrequited love that the world would be smaller without. The mechanism of the game is transformed by its players so that the two game proponents become assassins as well.

Turner’s choices in this show were very strong. The Balladeer and the Proprietor became a Cameraman and a Game Show Host. The Balladeer is Sondheim’s stand-in for the audience’s feelings throughout the show. In this production’s case, he shows the audience where to look, although not how to feel. He would simply sing us the story and let us draw our own conclusions. The Game Show Host led the contestants, stone-faced, through their trials, leading them straight to their chosen targets, and letting them succeed or fail. Because it’s not his job to care, it’s hard for the audience to care about him, and often times he disappeared in these moments because the focus was on the assassin themselves, but a wrenching resolution walked into a book depository. It led up to a heart-breaking conclusion that left the audience shaking but singing on the way out the door, and really, for what more could you ask?

All of the actors provided strong, memorable, heart-breaking but focused performances. Most notable were the two women who played Squeaky Fromme and Sarah Jane Moore. Both had elegant voices and delivered quirky performances that sparkled and provided an excellent commentary on how un-fun it is to be an American woman sometimes. Tina Sheing and Miriam Pultro delivered the sense of these ladies as cut from the same cloth. Pultro’s Squeaky was a spring chicken, full of burning desire to eat the world alive, and Sheing’s Moore a prize mother hen who would take the world under her wing, if only she could keep it all together. Their joyful and determined target practice with a KFC bucket made me so happy.

In fact, every assassin in this show had a moment that should be set up as a case study of How To Make Excellent Theater out of American Pain and Ambivalence. Mike Ware’s Samuel Byck was funny, sad and right as he chugged his cans of Bud and rambled into a tape recorder, begging Leonard Bernstein to write more love songs and challenging Nixon’s failed presidency; Jonathan Dalecki’s Czogloz was brutal in his mechanically fierce descriptions of the factory worker’s life and tender as spring in his gentlemanly worship of Emma Goldman. Mike Renn’s Giuseppe Zangara had a very real fire in his belly that suggested Kurt Cobain and the current healthcare debates, along with a profound voice. Brian Turner’s nearly-silent, restrained but desperate to connect John Hinckley was chilling simply in the way he moved across the stage, his discomfort in his own skin; he was truly the guy you would not sit next to on the subway. Then his duet with Pultro, “Unworthy of Your Love,” made his chase of a flickering Reagan mask and voice so much more painful.

This plays for one more weekend at Wilmington Drama League so get down there.

Ok. I have said it. I saw a Sondheim musical and I enjoyed it, I even drove to see it IN THE RAIN, but only because it was this one, this production, this company, this director, these actors, this time. I will now go back to hating all musicals. Keep your Sondheim away from me.

The Palin Joke For Which You’ve All Been Waiting

•September 1, 2008 • Leave a Comment
Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, loocking scrumptious in red.

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, looking scrumptious in red.

NEWS REPORTER: This week’s top story, Republican would-be presidential candidate Senator John McCain stole the thunder of Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama, by announcing his own pick for vice president, Governor Sarah Palin. Selection of Governor Palin, an Alaskan politician new to the national arena, was a move that surprised even residents of her home state.

SOUND CUE: BOMP-BOMP-BOM-BOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM!!!!!

SARAH PALIN: Nnnnooooo one expects the Alaskan Politician! My chief weapon is surprise, surprise and fear, fear, surprise, rrruthless efficiency and an almost fanatical devotion to Dick Cheney – I’ll come in again.

(exits, repeat with slight variations ad nauseam)

Thank you. Don’t forget to tip your bartenders and waitresses.

It’s an eyesore!

•August 18, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Northeast Philadelphia has more than its fair share of billboards. It’s an area where residents are low-income enough to not have the time, energy or resources to fight absentee landlords, much less keep landowners from selling off green space for the advertising dollar. That’s where this little corner of Bustleton Avenue comes in. Nestled in a little grove of trees next to a convenience store, this shady spot gets a fair amount of traffic from commuters to and from Frankford Transportation Center, a major hub for SEPTA. So it’s worth it to keep this spot looking nice, especially as it’s bordered on two sides by housing. But it’s obviously more important to the landowner to keep it profitable, which is why they built a big billboard on it to rent.

In the winter of 2007, Pro-Life America had another one of their advertisements on this billboard. You might have seen them, if you live in a low-income neighborhood. They touted babies with Down’s Syndrome as a fun item (like a Happy Meal Toy. “Collect them all!”) and generally oversimplified pregnancy into a process by which one gets a fun object to play with. The billboard on Bustleton Ave was fortunate enough to deserve the ad with a smiling, white-faced, uber-Aryan blue-eyed baby beneath a fiery orange shining sun and the legend, “God knew my soul before I was born.”

This billboard stayed for a couple of months before it was replaced by an ad for the movie 10,000 B. C. Well, sort of. As you can see from the picture below, at about the time the ad was pasted up, the “For Sale” sign on this little corner went up too, and the job was left incomplete. Or was it?

Billboard on Bustleton Ave with an ad for 10,000 B.C. half-pasted over a pro-life ad with a giant smiling baby in the place where a sabre-toothed tiger should be.

February, 2008

The contrast raises questions about the intelligent-design-versus-evolution debate, but that’s another topic. For sheer hilarity, you can’t beat the caveman with his big spiky spear gingerly poised to strike at Giant Sanctimonious Baby, where we know (from billboards all over the same neighborhood) a giant saber-toothed tiger should be snarling.

You’d think, from the sloppiness of this paste-up job alone, the owner of this little plot of land would be embarrassed enough to tell the paste-up company to do something about it. Or perhaps the company that brings in the advertising for this spot would be embarrassed at the shoddy service they’re providing to their clientele. Or maybe the companies seeking the advertising would notice and take offense. Certainly this diminishes their agenda. Quite frankly, I don’t see how this billboard makes anyone want to see “that caveman movie,” or make babies. You’d think the local politicians would take offense at this mess. You’d think something would happen.

The same billboard on Bustleton Avenue, August, 2008. Little to nothing has changed.

August, 2008

As you can clearly see, over the next eight months, a lot happened. Can you spot the differences between the two pictures? Here, I’ll make it easier for you. The snow melted. The grass turned a lush green. The trees grew. The layers of paper on the top billboard are peeling off and falling down. Any change in the advertising? Nope. But here’s the kicker, folks;

The lawn has been cut.

That’s right. Look at the bottom, the most boring part of this image, and you’ll notice that the grass is a short, spiky, healthy green. Some maintenance has been done here. Why? Because in Northeast Philadelphia there is no greater offense than an untrimmed lawn? Or is it to make absolutely sure that the “For Sale” sign is nice and clear? I think it’s going to take a lot more than a lawnmower to make a venture capitalist pull his Jaguar over, look at his Rolex and say to himself, “Self, it’s time to spend some money. By Jingo, this little spot looks like a prime real estate opportunity!”

So, what do we learn from this object in our neighborhood?

Companies with money (realtors, pro-life agitators, movie studios, landowners) don’t care about people in working-class neighborhoods. They probably don’t even know about this mess. Whoever owns that triangle of land certainly doesn’t care about the community. Ditto the local elected representatives. Personally, I think this is an amusing testament to neglect. It says a lot more about Warner Bros. and Pro-Life America than they ever could have imagined. I wonder how long it’ll stay this way. The most interesting thing about this billboard is that no graffiti has been sprayed on it. It makes enough of a statement on its own.

Back to Lubbock #2: That Man In The Shadows

•August 16, 2008 • Leave a Comment
The original lineup of The Shadows.

The original lineup of The Shadows; Jet Harris, Hank Marvin, Tony Meehan and Bruce Welch.

Probably the first offspring of Holly’s look was that of guitarist Hank Marvin of The Shadows. He had enough of the hallmarks of Holly’s look to pass for him in a lineup: slight frame, long chin, slick dark hair fallen a little unruly in the front, and the trademark dark-framed glasses.

What made him uniquely closer to Holly was his sound and what he used to make it. The Shadows started as Cliff Richards’ backing band in England in the 1950s, first as The Drifters and then as the Shadows. American pop music wasn’t easy for kids in the UK to come by. Import records were expensive, and radio airplay of American pop was infrequent if nonexistent. It was easier for British teens to get American musical styles from a local band. The Shadows didn’t disappoint.

After hearing Buddy Holly as a teen, Marvin switched from playing banjo and piano to guitar. Holly’s signature instrument was the 1958 Fender Stratocaster. Following his cue, in 1959 Cliff Richard had a Fender Stratocaster imported for his lead guitarist, the first in the UK (It was Richard’s property, but Marvin is known for being the first to have one in the UK. Save this tidbit for a bar bet sometime). The guitar was a color Fender called “Fiesta Red,” although band mate Bruce Welch later described it as salmon pink. In black and white photos, it didn’t matter. Between the glasses, the suit, the finely-boned face and the rare Fender Strat, any promotional picture of theirs would be closer to the American rock and roll image that the kids were craving than that of any of their competitors.

Hank Marvin’s love of Holly’s music stuck with him his whole life, best exemplified in his 2004 tribute album, Hank Plays Holly.

Back to Lubbock #1: “I look just like Buddy Holly”

•July 15, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Go ahead and try it. Type the phrase “Buddy Holly” into the search engine of your choice. Maybe not the first, but the second and third things you find will not be rock legend, singer-songwriter Buddy Holly, but the video by Weezer, “Buddy Holly.”

This video is enjoyably duplicitous. It appears to show a simpler time; innocent, tender years when matching sweaters were de rigeur, guys were clean cut, girls were fluffy and bouncy, and nothing was more fun than dancing and doing homework at the local malt shop. Your television history reminds you that this video is a homage to a simpler time, but not the post-World War II era. Rather it’s the post Vietnam era, when Jimmy Carter told us to turn down the heat and put on a sweater, and we were still years away from the Reagan-Bush I- Bush II regimes. Punk was getting ready to rumble. It was 1994 when Weezer and director Spike Jonze took Garry Marshall’s 1970’s hit Happy Days and wed it to MTV, to highlight the social phenomenon that is The Buddy Holly Look, while still placating young people that they’re OK.

What’s the message behind this medium? Why and how have so many male artists embraced this look, made variations on its theme, then variations on the variations and passed them on to the next generation? What it is about the Buddy Holly Look that endures?

Before we go any further, let’s go back to the original. Buddy Holly’s driven blend of country and blues was seminal to the work of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and probably any rock band or artist you can shake a Fender Stratocaster at. Volumes have been written about his short life and wide influence, but little has been said about his look. Holly probably wore what was most natural to him, without even realizing he was the perfect blend of Serious Upstanding Young Man and Wild Child. Most iconic are the heavy-framed glasses. They dominated his fine-boned face, enhancing the width of his forehead and the narrowness of his jaw. They grew bigger and heavier with his success, a sly taunt to the rock promoter who, in 1956, insisted Holly’s 20/800 vision was a greater risk onstage than wearing glasses if he wanted to be like Elvis 1 His hair was a combination of brilliantine gloss, topped with a mess of curls. His skin was as impeccably smooth as his suits.

Up close, Holly seemed a choirboy, the kind of guy you’d love to hire, have meet your mother or marry your daughter. From a distance, all angles and edges, Holly was a knife. His angular physique and tailored suits contradicted his age. Even if he were young, he was nobody’s fool. Holly was no stranger to fistfights, and carried a gun 2. His Texas upbringing provided much more than mere swagger and twang. By treading the line between sweet-faced salesman, rocker, composer, entrepreneur, boy and man, Holly embodies the changeling or trickster icon of 1950s America. The bite and bounce of Holly’s music assured his place in the rock pantheon as someone who would never grow old. Unfortunately, a plane crash cut his life short in February of 1959, leaving rock music lovers with a yearning unfulfilled and a fiery crash that matched his fast life.

For thousands of young men today, if they can’t play like Buddy, at least they can wear glasses like him. In subsequent posts, we’ll examine the phenomenon of The Buddy Holly Look, its uses, message and meaning.

(1), (2) Rave On: The Biography of Buddy Holly, by Philip Norman. Copyright 1996, Simon & Schuster.

she likes strings

•July 13, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The header here is a picture of Camille guarding the guitars in the rack. She’s very serious about it.