Monday, February 27, 2012

Tryanny of The New Yorker

The Tyranny of The New Yorker Magazine from Yuvi Zalkow on Vimeo.

I love getting The New Yorker magazine because the writing is top-notch and the articles cover every possible topic under the sun. Always something fascinating in each issue.

I dread getting the New Yorker magazine because it comes out every week and I can't possibly keep up with it. I have literally cringed upon seeing a new issue of the New Yorker in the mailbox, because I still hadn't cracked the one before it. That's why I found this video so spot-on and hilarious.

The last time I could read a New Yorker cover to cover was when we lived in Ossining, New York, before the kids arrived. Now---I try to be satisifed if I've left food stains somewhere inside each issue.

Yuvi Zalkow is a self-described "failed writer" (although he's due to release a novel soon), who makes hilarious videos about writing and failure using a little computer wizardry and his toddler's stuffed animals.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Romeo And Juliet At The Kansas City Ballet

Pictured above are the two leads that performed Thursday night when Roger and I went to see the Kansas City Ballet perform Romeo and Juliet at the Kauffman Center. We were very lucky to get a comp ticket and a discounted ticket through Roger's work for the KC Ballet.

There was a lot to love about this ballet. Wonderful music by Prokofiev, that made the dancing all the more beautiful to watch.

We were in the nosebleed section, but we had the binoculars, so I was able to enjoy the rich colors and textures of the Elizabethan costumes. I was also able to see the dancers' faces , and appreciate how much expression they were putting into their roles.

I thought the following review from the Kansas City Star summed up the acting nicely:
"Despite the familiarity of the story, acting ability was as vital as technical prowess. Romeo’s development from impetuous show-off to grieving lover was matched by Juliet’s transition from coquettish ingĂ©nue to passionate wife.

This was displayed through their various duets, from their shy initial glances, the flirtatious meeting at the balcony, to the more tender and assured bedroom scene, and the final, tragic dance in the crypt, as Romeo lifted Juliet’s lifeless body in poses reminiscent of earlier scenes.

Sansone also had the dual responsibility of dying twice, and she did it well. She was clearly fearful when taking the potion. But her ability really showed in her reactions to waking up in the crypt, discovering Romeo’s body, her steely determination for the end and the gentle final embrace.

Many of the dancers showcased their dramatic ability. Aisling Hill-Conner was an icy, regal Lady Capulet, which made her spasms of grief that much more arresting. Michael Eaton was affecting as the ill-tempered Tybalt.

Logan Pachciarz looked like he was having a lot of fun playing the good-natured Mercutio, even as he stumbled and skipped through his death throes. And Tamara Sanders as the Nurse elicited chuckles as she fussed over Juliet, interrupted the young lovers and was jokingly jostled by Romeo and his friends.

The ensemble numbers were well staged, especially the stately masquerade dance, which – with high-flung arms, arched spines and intricate gestures – was visually sublime. The pomp was contrasted excellently by the innocence of Juliet’s dance with her cousins and the sweet, unaffected duet with Paris, danced by Marcus Oatis.

Many of the crowd scenes were busy, with a sense of constant motion. While this was at times difficult to follow, it offered short, yet delightful, breakout moments for the dancers, especially during the whirly-gig melody of the mandolin dance.

The fight scenes were exciting and tense. The audience gasped empathetically when first Mercutio, then Tybalt, were stabbed.

Read more here:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mardi Gras At 18th And Vine!

PLBB in a pre-Mardi Gras rehearsal at the Paul Mesner Puppet Studio

I go back and forth on what I think heaven will be like. Sometimes I think it will be a family reunion, a gathering of loved ones just talking and sharing and laughing without end. Sometimes I think it will be a road trip, like our trip through the southwest last summer. Hours of beautiful scenery on mostly deserted highways. Peaceful and carefree. But last night, I was convinced that heaven was a carnival, as in Mardi Gras carnival.

I went to the Mardi Gras festivities on 18th street, and I had the Time Of My Life. That's when I knew--this is what I'll be doing in the great hereafter.

The whole thing started a little after 9:30, when a lively parade that had been making its way down 18th street from Y J's Snack Bar arrived at the Blue Room, immediately followed by a dancing party, both inside and outside the Blue Room. Revelry ensued. I danced and danced and danced and danced and danced.

For those who might think my enthusiasm was spurred on with the help of some spirit friends, I'll have you know I didn't touch a drop of alcohol or any other mood-altering substances. (Though the air did smell funny now and again and I confess I did breathe in extra hard at those times to see if I could coattail a little second-hand buzz. I couldn't.) No, it was just the music, the costumes, the crowd, and the general joy of partying one's ass off.

As I danced and shimmied and whooped, I knew - This! is what I was meant for. And I realized something. That story Laura always tells about being left in the wood pile by gypsies? WRONG. That was me! I was the one who had been left. It just wasn't as obvious, because I am by nature a shy and introverted type. But within me burbles a free spirit so deep it can only be genetic. And when it rises to the surface, there is no stopping it. It's like letting a genie out of the bottle.

With all due respect to my parents, or that is, those two people who have pretended to be my parents all these years, it is clear to me now that things would have worked out better if I had been taken in by hippies. Then I would have been living the bohemian life that is my birthright, and it would have been an easy transition from the poetry-and-bongos collective of my childhood to a successful career as an avante-garde performing and visual artist. But instead, I was completely removed from my element and raised in a small, midwestern farming community with strong German-Catholic overtones. Oh, the humanity.

While I was revelrying last night, Roger was playing cowbell. He was with the People's Liberation Big Band Mobile Tactical Unit, a specialized subset of the band prepared for swift infiltration of bars and street corners.

 As the crowd danced to another band already staked out in the Blue Room, there came a noise from the entrance, growing steadily louder. Turning our heads, we could see the PLBB Mobile Tactical Unit banner raised high, pushing its way into the room, followed by a string of PLBB musicians, who were blowing on horns and banging drums. The PLBB Mobile Tactical Unit interrupted the other band, and then after only a few seconds of confusion, the two bands began playing together.

The video above shows the PLBB Mobile Tactical Unit rehearsing one of the tunes, "Fat Man," at the Paul Mesner Puppet Studio, which is their rehearsal space. As a rehearsal clip, it does not adequately convey the power or magic of the music when it is pounding your chest from two feet away, and you are swaying in a crowd of be-jeweled, be-tassled, face-painted freaks. But at least you get a little taste. You can see Roger playing cowbell in this video. The leader of the band, Brad Cox, can be seen playing tambourine.

And though you can't see them clearly, I like to point out that those colored objects on the wall in the room are actually puppets.       

For a bigger screen of the video, here's the link to the website:

Fat Man:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Fatness

It's Fat Tuesday! The day of revelry and wild parades. Freaks waving their freak flags, queens in their drag. Like the pretty young thing above. No wait! That picture was taken at the 2010 Old Settler's in Ness City. Had you fooled, didn't I? I cropped out the American flag that had been visible at the right edge of the frame, so as not to give it away.

I heard about a Mardi Gras parade happening tonight that will take off from the Crossroad Arts District, in front of Y J's Snack Bar, and will travel all the way to the historic Jazz District at 18th and Vine. I kind of want to go, but I can't find out when the darn thing starts. I don't travel in the right circles. I'm not connected to the hipster grapevine. I don't have the right kinds of friends on Facebook. Even Google was no help. I could only find articles about the parade from past years, or about events I don't care about. 

So it remains to be seen whether or not I will "laissez les bons temps rouler". Stay tuned for updates.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Jazz Discharge

They were unruly, profane, and brilliant. They played wild fits of eccentric jazz, punctured with ecstatic bursts of head-banging rock guitar. They performed feats of musical tight-rope and derring-do, reveling in dizzying runs and giddy chord progressions that left us, the audience, gob-smacked in a most enjoyable way.

They did Girl of Ipanema, Yesterday Once More, by the Carpenters, Back in Black, and a song about appreciating a cow, as you would never imagine them, and as I cannot and will not attempt to describe here.

They had come back from the dead. In their previous show, all five members had committed suicide on stage. Their miraculous resurrection enabled them to make their way to the Record Bar in Westport last night and perform once again for a clamoring audience. They spoke of having met Frank Zappa, Karen Carpenter, and Antonio Carlos Jobim in the after life.

Roger and I were in that audience. When I ordered my Guinness, the bartender had warned me to get my ear plugs. But I knew that with Brad Cox on keyboards, Jeff Harshbarger on electric bass, Scotty McBee on drums, James Isaac on saxophone and flute, Matt Brewer on guitar, and all of them on unflinching vocals, I had to be prepared for anything.

And it was anything, alright, Anything and everything and writhing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bach Is In The House

You'll never guess where I was Sunday night, between the hours of 7:00 and 9:00. You would not imagine that I would be hanging out in a mansion on Ward Parkway, mingling and schmoozing with a crowd of affluent, high brow types. But there I was, sipping my red wine and pretending that I was one of the beautiful people, and that this was just the sort of well-appointed gathering I was accustomed to.

How did I come to be there? Who let me inside? The truth is, I hadn't exactly been invited. Admission had come at a price, the price of a ticket to the Hauskonzert by the Bach Aria Soloists. Roger had bought the tickets as a Valentine's Day gift for me.

The Bach Aria Soloists is a small group of Kansas City musicians who perform music by Bach and Bach-inspired composers, and they put on these hauskonzerts three times a year, so as to provide an intimate chamber music setting for hearing the music as it was originally intended, and to give rubes like me the chance to rub elbows with the cultural elite. 

Each hauskonzert is hosted in a lovely (rich-ass) home, and includes drinks before the concert, and afterwards, a killer reception full of sumptuous eats.

This particular hauskonzert was going to be a special Valentine's-themed concert, featuring "love" works by Bach, Edward Elgar, Fritz Kreisler, and Gabriel Faure.

When the time for the concert came, Roger and I made our way to the tony address on Ward Parkway, and found a majestic brick colonial with huge white columns adorning the front. This is one of those ultra-swank homes I have driven by a gazillion times, but never thought I would ever step inside.

As we approached it we saw that the big wrought iron gates that were normally shut tight were flung open for us, and we drove right up the circle drive, as if we were somebodies. The valets played along, and acted like we were somebodies too, quickly taking the car off our hands.

From the outside, I would have pictured this home ornately furnished, flush with luxurious fabrics and gleaming antiques. Instead, the interior was ultra-modern and sleek and I suspect, was very Feng Shui. The style seemed Japanese-influenced, with clean, geometric lines and very few curves, and a minimalistic approach to decoration. Even the abstract art on the walls, while bold, was primarily monochromatic. Along one wall was what appeared to be a shoji screen.

Roger and I went to the free bar and got cups of red wine, then drifted around aimlessly. We wandered through the kitchen area, and like some of the other guests, we ogled the reception food that was covered with plastic wrap. An army's worth of sushi!--catered by Jun's restaurant---awaited our greedy appetites. Behind the counter, the wall behind the stove and sink was illuminated with an eye-catching display of colored light. "Look," I whispered. "The wall is hot pink." It seemed like an odd color choice for the kitchen. But as I watched, the color faded to rose, which then morphed into orange, which turned to yellow, and so on, until the light had cycled all the way through the color wheel and back again.

But forget the eye candy. The concert was the main thing, and it was marvelous. Violinist Elizabeth Suh Lane, who founded Bach Aria Soloists, made me want to cry, her playing was so beautiful. Elizabeth is a virtuoso who has played all over the globe. Kansas City is lucky to have her. I have had the opportunity to speak to her casually, because she brings her son Ethan to our house for jazz piano lessons. Musically speaking, I consider her royalty, but in person she is as full of warmth and grace as her music is.

Beau Bledsoe played brilliant guitar. I've enjoyed hearing him many times but most memorably, when he played with Tango Lorca for my 40th birthday party, and for a work holiday party. Rebecca Lloyd sang French operatic numbers in a soaring soprano, and Elisa Bickers was stunning on piano and harpsichord.

After the concert, we joined the line for the food. While standing in line, Elizabeth introduced us to a man whom she said was Elisa Bickers' husband. Looking at him directly for the first time, and seeing that he wore an earring in each ear, I immediately recognized him as Lilah's honors English teacher!

Poor man, I can't help but think he looked like a trapped animal as I loudly identified him. I wasn't sure he was all that pleased to run into two parents. He was probably groaning inwardly at the thought of having to talk about school. And what did I do? I launched into a discussion of The Book Thief, which he had assigned to Lilah's class, and which I was in the middle of reading myself. "What did you think of the narration?" I asked him. I was genuinely curious, because I was having my own issues with it. I didn't necessarily mind that Death was the narrator, since this was a story about Nazi Germany, but I found the narrator's constant fragmented interruptions and announcements to be increasingly annoying and getting in the way of the story. The narrator intrudes with a glibness that to me sounds too much like the author signalling his cleverness.

Anyway, Mr. Bickers and I were both saved from our conversation by the sushi table, which had at last come within reach. We had only tiny plastic plates, but I loaded mine up as best I could. I tried putting ponzu sauce (what is that??) on my plate, but it rolled around like a loose marble and spread over everything. I waffled over the wasabi. First I skipped it, out of fear, then I went back and put a smidge of it on my plate, but in the end, I left it untouched. My drink was empty and I had no way to put out the fire. There were several colorful permutations of sushi, and something deep-fried that might have been a prawn.

Roger and I found seats next to the 90 year old mother of Benny Lee, the Taiwan-born and raised owner of the house. I know she's 90 because Lee had introduced her at the start of the concert to the whole room, and announced that she'd flown 6,000 miles to be there.

We had a choice of using either a fork or a chop stick, and naturally everyone at our table was using chopsticks, including Roger. So I wanted to try to use them too. This didn't worry me too much, because I thought I had actually learned to use chopsticks successfully on some prior occasion. And really, how hard could it be?

Well, it turned out to be plenty hard. In my attempt to grab my sushi roll with the two sticks, I repeatedly stabbed it instead, which pushed the inside portion of neatly packed bits completely out of the coiled center and made the whole piece of sushi fall apart. But using a fork didn't work much better. Just trying to grab it with my fork produced the same effect of pushing out the center and making the whole roll collapse. I ended up having to improvise with a combination of fork, chopstick and finger to get it from the plate to my mouth. I can only imagine what Benny Lee's 90 year old mother must have been thinking.

Thank goodness dessert was just a simple heart cookie with pink or red frosting.

When it came time to go, the valets fetched our car with brisk efficiency. But while I was waiting in the foyer, I had time to look up and notice the light fixture hanging overhead -a marvel of modern design made up of dozens of white sheets of metal that looked like the petals of a flower and suggested kinetic sculptures I've seen in museums.

But then our car pulled up and we stepped away from the Lee home back to reality. It was a very cold night, but the car was warmed up for us, the ease of which was the last bit of luxury we could grab, along with the extra heart cookie we had swiped to take home to the girls. The richness of the music though, we could keep forever.

Bach Aria Soloists --Rebecca Lloyd, Beau Bledsoe, Elisa Bickers, and Elizabeth Suh Lane