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


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Just how important music is

Monday, November 26th, 2018

I’ve been reading an interview with founding Pere Ubu synthesizer player Allen Ravenstine and just came across this. It’s an exciting — and sobering — reminder of just how important the arts are, and music in particular. When people are deprived of it, they’re willing to risk everything for it.

I’ll tell you one of my favorite stories. We used to play a club in Berlin called the SO36. It was a very small place and it had almost no ventilation in it. It would fill up and it was so steamy in there that condensation would form on the walls. And I remember one night getting up on the stage and the opening moment of the performance was a woman throwing a shoe at us. And it was just un-bear-ably loud! It was so loud in there, it was painful. And at the end, I went up to the soundman and I said ‘why does this have to be so loud? What is that about?’ He said ‘well, it’s because the club is right up against the Wall. The kids in East Berlin sneak in to the buildings on their side of the Wall to listen to the music.’

And Cutler was the one who had me read a book called The Bass Saxophone Player. It’s a fascinating story about how in the Second World War, the folks that lived in the occupied territories would sneak off into the hills on the weekend and they would get into these little clubs, hotels and they would put on zoot suits and stuff and they would spin the stuff that was going on over here, like Benny Goodman. And they would dance to it and they would have a lookout watching the road and when the Gestapo would come, they would jump out of their zoot suits and put on their folk costumes. And the band would play folk music and they would dance to that to hide what they were up to. And the idea that… you would risk your life to hear some kind of music… just unbelievable. And so that story was always fascinating to me- those kids were risking their necks, sneaking into these abandoned buildings to hear this. And this club (Ubu was at) was cranking the music as loud as it was so that there was some chance that they could hear it on the other side.

I consider myself lucky that I’ve never had to risk getting shot in order to listen to music I prefer.

The whole interview, which references the birth of post-punk, a clash with Devo in the early 70s,  and Ravenstine’s unexpectedly huge influence that he still doesn’t fully comprehend, can be found here. If you want to get a sense of what it might be like to be in a band for years, and touring the U.S. and Europe, with a boatload of differing personalities, you’ll find this interesting.

Marriage, a 2-minute play

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

Him (wearing flip-flops):  I’m going to walk to the office to check the mail, then on the way back, I’m going to stop in at Smart & Final to pick up good coffee. Coffee that you can drink black and still enjoy.
Her (getting a bag):  Here’s a bag.
Him:  I don’t need a bag. I’m just getting the coffee.
Her:  Get bacon, too.
Him:  We don’t need bacon.
Her:  We don’t have bacon.
Him:  We still have bacon — you said you took it out of the freezer. I’m not doing the grocery shopping. I’m doing that tomorrow. I’m just walking to the office, then on the way back, I’m stopping in and picking up coffee, because I can already imagine how I would feel tomorrow morning if I got up and there wasn’t any drinkable coffee.
Her:  If you drove, you could get the bacon, too.
Him:  I’m walking, but If you want me to get bacon, I’ll get the bacon.
Her:  No, that’s okay.
Him:  It’s okay?
Her:  It’s okay. We have that pound I took out of the freezer.

(A beat.)

Him: Okay.

(He moves toward the front door.)

Her:  Oh. Can you get a can of turkey gravy? A big can?

(Pause.)

Him:  Sure. (A beat.) So… I guess now I need the bag.
Her (handing it over):  Here you go!

 

Mode of being

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

Well, Eddie, that’s almost my name. But it’s definitely my joie de vivre.

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With great career comes great gratitude

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

Of all the tributes to Stan Lee that I’ve read in the past day-and-a-half, it’s Gerry Conway’s that has touched me the most.

Conway succeeded Stan Lee in scripting Spider-Man at age 19 (!!!). He was a significant comic-book writer for Marvel from 1971 to 1977 (and a minor writer for DC for three years before that), and thereafter became a major comics writer elsewhere, before transitioning into television. So he knows what he’s talking about — and he attributes his entire career to the jolt given him by an early issue of Fantastic Four — and, therefore, to Stan Lee.

What I most appreciate about this piece is that he looks at Stan unsentimentally — noting the shortcomings many of us saw — but comes away recognizing just how essential Stan Lee was to revolutionizing both comic books and pop culture.

What, according to Gerry Conway, was Stan Lee’s most significant achievement? Making it cool to want to work in comics… and to love comics.

“Nobody aspires to play in a rock band if they’ve never heard of a rock band. The Marvel Bullpen of the 1960s was comicdom’s first rock band.

“That was because of Stan.”

Spot on.

You can read the rest of the piece here.

‘Nuff said.

Now it can be told!

Monday, November 12th, 2018

According to longtime DC Comics scribe Elliot S! Maggin, here’s how Stan Lee got started in a career in cameos.

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Another wonderful part of Stan Lee’s legacy

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Countless young people like me read this at the time and were positively influenced by it.

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Stan Lee, R.I.P.

Monday, November 12th, 2018

StanLee

Stan Lee has died. And with that, we’ve lost the last luminary of the Golden Age of comics.

I owe the man a lot. He and his creative partner Jack Kirby shaped my early life, helping me to understand that while each of us would always have problems to deal with, there was a universe of adventure awaiting our exploration.

Kirby was the cosmic explorer, a man overfilled with big ideas and the drawing ability to set them down on paper. It was Lee, though, who supplied the underlying humanity — whether it was the tortured Ben Grimm trying to hold onto his sense of self while trapped within the body of a monster, or, even, the imposter who’d taken Ben’s guise but who, as he learned about Ben’s noble character, sacrificed himself to save the rest of the Fantastic Four. Kirby’s later comics, without Lee, were fun but soulless; Lee’s few attempts at comics without Kirby were all spin and no groove. While DC characters like the Flash and Green Lantern had all the personal luster of a subcommittee hearing, Marvel’s characters were conflicted and torn:  Tony Stark, the munitions maker with the damaged heart trying to protect those closest to him while supplying arms; Thor, trying to balance the competing demands of godhood, an overbearing father, and the mortals he was drawn to; Bruce Banner, a sensitive scientist struggling with the rage he personified as the Hulk. The Silver Surfer, in particular, trying to find his proper place in a universe that’s been closed off to him. These and many more speak to Stan Lee’s gift for archetypal character.

I’ve run into Stan Lee many, many, many times over the course of my life, and not just at comics conventions. At the Beverly Center, a mall on the west side of town, I was going down one side of an escalator while he was rising on the other, his lovely wife in tow. I’ve seen him on the street or at events here and there throughout the past 30 years. A client of mine had Stan Lee consulting for him. About four years ago, I literally almost collided with him in a crowded stairwell at a hotel, where he was pursued by admirers. This is a man who was famous as early as 50 years ago, speaking on college campuses and even putting on a show at Madison Square Garden. The Marvel movies of the past 10-plus years, with his signature cameos, only increased his fame.

Last night, as I was leaving the gym, I came across a white Dish satellite panel van, its interior lights left on, I assumed, by a driver who was now working out in the gym. I was tired — bedraggled, even — but made my way back around the corner and around another corner and into the gym to tell the man at the front desk that someone had left his lights on and that they should make an announcement. This wasn’t on a par with warning people about the imminence of Galactus, but it still reflects the sort of values I learned from my parents and in indelible ink from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and that I try to practice every day.

His work, though easily mocked as lowbrow pop culture, was an inspiration to millions of us. He also brought delight to a lot of lonely bookish kids like me all across the world.

Excelsior!

Still fighting the never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way

Sunday, November 11th, 2018

SupermanTrump

Critical response

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

Tonight, my wife Valorie and I went to our friend Amy’s 50th birthday party at a club in Sherman Oaks.  Because our lives have been intersecting for more than 15 years, Amy and her husband Ross and Valorie and I have a lot of friends in common.

Still, there were some people there I didn’t know. One guy, Bill, asked how I knew Amy and Ross, and I explained that Amy is my business partner. I’ve also done a lot of theatre with Ross, who is a fine actor and director, but I didn’t go into that because the club was loud and it was a chore to have a conversation.

Bill said he’d known Ross for a long time, ever since they lived next to each other 32 years ago. Then he ventured that he saw Ross in “Cabaret” some years ago, and laughed at the memory, then added that he saw Ross in a show he did last year “across from Paramount.”

“Oh, what show was that?”

“I don’t know. Something with three people,” he said.

I remembered this play. It was called “Triptych.”

“How was it?” I asked.

“Not good. But you couldn’t blame Ross. It was the script.”

I didn’t tell Bill that I too had seen that play.

Because I wrote it.

Spectral occasion

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

This woman claims to have had sex with 20 ghosts, and now says she’s engaged to one.

I think she’s confusing phantasm with orgasm.