Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.



November 25th, 2015

You know those seemingly innocent, fun Facebook apps that do things like revealing your “Most Used Words”? Here’s why you might not want to use them.

Buster Keaton and the art of the gag

November 23rd, 2015

Here’s the best eight minutes you’re likely to spend today. (At least, it was for me.) Buster Keaton had an incomparable ability to frame physical comedy — and then, midway through his early career, wiped an entire color spectrum from his palette. In moving to features, he stripped “impossible gags” from his repertoire so that people could invest more fully in the “reality” of his full-length films — even when those full-length films existed in multiple levels of reality. (As with “Sherlock, Jr.,” when “real-world” Buster becomes a cinematic Buster, entering the life of the film he’d been watching.

This eight-minute video covers that shift, and much more — including framing Keaton’s comedy in four directions (up, down, left and right). By watching this, you can’t go wrong.

The hypocrisy of HuffPo

October 27th, 2015

A tip of the hat to Wil Wheaton, who calls out the Huffington Post for its abhorrent practice of paying nothing to most of its contributors (even though Arianna and her investors, et al, are scooping up millions). As Wheaton notes, “you can’t pay your rent with “the unique platform and reach our site provides.”

That’s only part of the point, though, the larger ones being that:

  • Arianna Huffington has held herself out as some sort of exemplar of best practices, as a much-quoted “progressive” (including on the public radio show “Left, Right and Center,” where theoretically she represented “Left” — but she founded and heads a company that subverts the idea that artists should be paid; and
  • They have the money;
  • And if they think your work is good enough to drag enough eyeballs over — which will further benefit them monetarily, as they sell that traffic to advertisers — then it must be good enough to pay for
  • And, finally, they are essentially selling your work and paying you nothing

Several friends of mine have gotten an email or a private Facebook message or occasionally even a public Facebook posting on this subject after I’ve seen them note how thrilled they are to have their writing appear (unpaid) in the HuffPo. Writing for the HuffPo is like prostituting yourself — except prostitutes get paid.

Paradise lost, epilogue

October 27th, 2015

When I came home from the lamentable Meat Loaf concert, I reassured my wife that Mr. Loaf  cannot sing and that he hadn’t performed the hallowed song from “Rocky Horror” — the song that she says she and our good friend from college sang every day, which I now don’t recall — anyway, and that the show was a bust. This was all true, and was also offered as assuagement.

Two mornings later, while she was still at work (she works nights),  I found myself singing away in the kitchen while fixing breakfast. Evidently, I still know about 70% of the lyrics to Meat Loaf’s hit “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” much to the chagrin of my 17-year-old daughter who cut into my singing to ask in a demanding fashion, “Are  you about done yet?” (Hey, it’s a long song.)

Just then, my wife swung around the corner into the kitchen and into view, startling me. “Glaah!” I shrieked. I hadn’t realized she was home from the hospital, but there she was in her death-toned black scrubs.

She had caught several bars of my rendition and offered this:  “You’ve got the tempo wrong.” Whereupon she launched into the entire song, sung at pretty much the speed I’d thought I was doing.

As a playwright and as someone trained in analyzing the deeper motivations of characters real and fictive, I wondered at the intent behind this, and started to spin a whole narrative in my head. But as her husband, all I said was, “Trust me, it was a terrible concert. I spared  you.”

Paradise lost

October 24th, 2015

On Wednesday night, a friend and I went to see the singer Meat Loaf in a concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. Yes, I have enjoyed some of Meat Loaf’s music, but the main reason I was going was because Trey had wondered if I’d join him. We have an unspoken pact to support each other in our musical tastes — he’s certainly seen Pere Ubu often enough with me — and so, yes, I agreed to go see Meat Loaf. While not especially a fan of Meat Loaf, almost 40 years later I could still summon up what a powerful impression he made on me with his performance on “Saturday Night Live” back in that show’s formative years. (To watch a video of “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad” from that 1978 SNL episode, click here.) No, I didn’t expect a return to that, but I figured it’d be nice to spend some time with a friend seeing an act I’d never seen but enjoyed.

Before I headed over there, my wife had questions.

“Where is this?” she asked.

“The Saban,” I said.

“Is that ‘Saban’ like the guy who owned the Power Rangers?”

“Yes,” I said. “Also the Saban who’s a major donor to the Democrats.”

“And this is Meat Loaf.”

“Uh huh.”

“… Was I invited?”

Now, she’s frequently made a point that she doesn’t like to go to concerts. Yes, she gamely went to see A Flock of Seagulls with me several months ago — in the rain! — and we had a great time, but she has told me repeatedly that she doesn’t want to go to concerts. Not even to see The Who, a band she really likes. To wit, this previous exchange:

Me: “Happy anniversary! Hey — I got us tickets to see The Who!”

Her:  ”Why?”

Me: “For our anniversary.”

Her: “Why don’t you take Trey?”

Me: “Um… because that doesn’t seem very anniversary-like.”

After which I reminded her of all the Who songs she likes, and promised what a great time we’d have. (The concert, which was supposed to be last month, has been rescheduled for May because Roger Daltrey was ill, so I foresee many more months of negotiation over whether or not she’s going. She’s still insisting that I should take Trey.)

With Meat Loaf on Wednesday night, the story was quite different.

Again: “Was I invited?”

Me: “Um… no…. Sorry, did you want to go?”

Her: “I love Meat Loaf. I’ve always loved Meat Loaf! Don’t you remember that in college Ski and I used to sing Meat Loaf’s song from ‘Rocky Horror’ all the time?”

Me, not remembering that: “Sorry, I thought you didn’t like concerts.”

Her: “But this is Meat Loaf!”

Me: “I can go online right now. See if I can get you a ticket.”

Her, with a sigh: “No, that’s all right. I need to stay home with the kids….”

Me: “I’ll stay home with the kids. You go see Meat Loaf with Trey and I’ll stay here.”

Her: “No, that’s okay. You have fun.”

When I related this to Trey, while we were sitting in the theatre waiting for the show to start, his brow furrowed. “Now I feel shitty,” he said. I countered, “Don’t worry about it — I offered to buy her a ticket, I offered to stay home, I offered for her to go in my place…” “But she could be sitting right there!” he said, pointing to an empty seat to my left. And it was true — she could have been.

Just then, the lights dimmed and people hooted and the band came on and started to play. As the seven supporting musicians started, I got excited — the mix of heavy drums with percussion and keyboards, and then twin layers of guitar on top, filled me with anticipation. This sounded great, and this was going to be great!

But then… Meat Loaf entered and started to sing. Or, more appropriately, “sing.”

As I was going to learn over the course of the next 90 minutes, the 2015 version of Meat Loaf can’t sing. As we discovered the only time he spoke to the audience, he can barely speak. When, three songs in, he announced a little birthday tribute to someone in the audience, his voice reminded of the metallic scraping of our in-sink garbage disposal, a gnashing and grating clamor that no one can endure. The reason Meat Loaf has seven supporting musicians became crystal clear — most of them cover for him on vocals. Not only can he not hit a single note, he can’t find one to make the attempt. He also, I suspect, is in some physical distress. Mr. Loaf has a large upper body, and legs that don’t seem to be supporting him too well; he ambled about the stage like a great rolling stink bug in a lurching, stilted way that convinced me he has major joint problems.

Outside after the concert, Trey and I ran into our friend David, an all-around great guy and a terrific actor I’ve seen in many shows over the years. Trey and David spent about 15 minutes talking each other into how wonderful the show was even though Meat Loaf can’t sing.

“It’s so great to see him,” David said.

“I know, it was really great!”

“Oh, those songs!”

“I think he hit one note!” Trey said with earnest good intention.

“No, he didn’t,” I said sourly. I honestly didn’t want to rain on their parade, but I wasn’t in for a round of self-delusion.

They went on with fond memories of Meat Loaf’s long-ago glory days, and how rewarding it was to see him.

“GUYS!” I said. “It’s great to see you both. And to spend some time with you. Really. But the ticket was one hundred and four dollars… to see a singer… who CAN’T SING! He couldn’t find a note if you stapled it onto his nose. The band was great, but he can’t sing, and he can’t move, so in this case, two out of three really is pretty bad.”

That somewhat took the air out of the encounter.

Then an ambulance pulled up, and we wondered if it were for Mr. Loaf himself, so we hung around and rubber-necked expressly to see if it was. (It wasn’t.)

Later, I googled Meat Loaf. A major thread of the search results:

Meat Loaf can’t sing anymore.” (If you’re going to read just one, I recommend this one — because it explicates what happens when you don’t take care of your instrument.

Rockers Who Can’t Sing Anymore.” (Guess who is prominently featured.)

Here’s a TripAdvisor review that includes this assessment: “The first note out of his mouth made me look at my husband and question him. Is that a stand in? Is the real Meat going to come out and say it was a joke, sadly no joke, he can’t sing a note anymore.”

And then, I found this, from The Guardian:

“I’ve had 18 concussions,” he says. “My balance is off. I’ve had a knee replacement. I’ve got to have the other one replaced. Two weeks before the knee surgery, I literally couldn’t walk from the bedroom to the kitchen. They took me to the hospital in an ambulance to get my knee replaced. And when they did, it was so damaged and torn up it’s going to take a year to come back. It’s just the travel. It takes it out of you. I want to concentrate more on acting. That’s where I started and that’s where I’ll finish. This time, they’re not going to rope me back in.”

To be honest, one hopes they don’t: Meat Loaf is reminiscent of nothing so much as a veteran boxer, moving awkwardly, talking slowly until he finds his rhythm. He’s had plenty of problems on stage in recent years – a Wembley show had to be abandoned in 2003, with him requiring heart surgery afterwards – and it’s him, not me, who observes that those of his contemporaries who are still touring hard are rather less substantial figures than he is: “All those skinny guys can keep going.” He certainly doesn’t seem to be yearning to do concerts. Most rock singers will tell you the two hours on stage make up for the 22 hours of tedium. Meat Loaf doesn’t. Sitting in a suite in a London hotel, he says how sick he is of hotel rooms. He bemoans the internet culture in which people say whatever they want about whoever they want, especially him: “If people don’t know what they’re talking about, why open their mouths?” Though he’s not cantankerous – he laughs often and talks freely – there’s a sense of Grumpy Old Man about him these days.

That’s from a piece about his “farewell tour.” It’s from 2013. That farewell is long overdue.

Sole support — update

October 23rd, 2015

Lincoln Chafee just confirmed that he although he’s dropping out of the presidential race, he is available for consideration as vice-president. But he does have to pick up his dry cleaning first.

Happy Creation Day

October 23rd, 2015

Every year on this day, we celebrate the birthday of the universe.

According to Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656), God created the universe on October 23, 4004 BC. James Ussher was an Irish Archbishop whose chronology of Biblical history was widely accepted throughout Christianity. Whenever it falls on a Friday, as it does today, I wonder if maybe that might not have been a little too convenient a placement for this special day, i.e., a way for the bishop and others to take a long weekend.

Be that as it may, while I can’t speak for Alpha Centauri, I think we ought to celebrate over here in our little corner. Happy 6015th, universe! I wish you well.

Sole support

October 23rd, 2015

Lincoln Chafee has dropped out of the presidential race.

I’m sure his supporter will be disappointed.

House rules

October 20th, 2015

News flash: Paul Ryan has announced that he’ll run for Speaker of the House if the GOP will pick out all the brown M&M’s first.

Mighty sore

October 16th, 2015

That’s how you might feel if you strained too hard to pick up Thor’s hammer.

But how would you feel if you found out it was rigged?