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


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Book return

Thursday, February 18th, 2021

One night last week, after about 20 years, I had a guy I know over for drinks and cigars and to talk about theatre and writing and books and music.

One thing about the pandemic: Suddenly we both had time. The social options normally available have telescoped down into almost nothing.

We already knew we had some things in common: We’re both playwrights and stage directors, we’ve both done work with Moving Arts (which is how we know each other), I’ve seen his plays and he’s seen mine, we both have wives and kids, and we both live in Burbank — within walking distance of each other. I learned the latter fact some time last year when he told me that whenever he’s at his kids’ school, he sees the fundraising tile my wife and I sponsored some years ago. More recently, he and his wife bought one too, so that’s something else we have in common.

Over the course of two-and-a-half hours in my back yard under a glowing patio heater and during half a bottle of bourbon, we took turns shooting references at each other that, yep, the other would actually get. When I compared the Stan Lee / Jack Kirby dynamic with the Edison / Tesla dynamic, both of them revolving around a genius largely unrecognized during his life, he was armed and ready with the tragic details of Tesla’s last years. We shared our admiration for the work of Ayad Akhtar. When we wandered into music, and the role of noise, and John Cage, and I inevitably brought up Pere Ubu, and he offered his love of their songs as songs, and then added Wire, I just about fell over. How often can one find someone equally capable of discussing Marvel comics, brilliant 19th century inventors, particular contemporary playwrights, semi-obscure postpunk bands, the practice of being a writer, Fran Lebowitz, and, especially dozens and dozens of books you’ve read?

What are the odds of this, and with regard to the books in particular? Not to put too fine a point on it, but it takes time to read a book. Most Americans read four books a year. In 2020, I read 33 books; my average is 26 books a year (I just checked; thank you, GoodReads), which I think is pathetic. Although it’s possible to read 100 books a year, distractions like eating and sleeping and other functions get in the way. So finding that you’ve both read Paul Auster and Joan Didion and Julian Barnes and Cormac McCarthy and Joyce Carol Oates and Philip Roth and some of the Russians and Fitzgerald and Hemingway and on and on while also having all those other interests in common is a bit… disconcerting. Wasn’t the final grandmaster chess tournament in “Queen’s Gambit” like this?

It did turn out, though, that there were two books I’d read and heartily endorsed that he hadn’t read, and two that he swore by that I hadn’t read. The next day, still thrilled and knocked off-kilter by the experience of having someone walk over to my house and have that sort of conversation with me over bourbon and cigars for almost three hours, I went on Amazon and sent him the two books I love that he hadn’t read: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.

He texted me two days later to thank me and to say that he’d already gobbled down the Barnes book, adding a few salient points about it. And then the other day, when I opened my front door to see why my annoying dogs were raising high holy hell this time, I found a package from Amazon on my own doorstep: He had sent me the two I hadn’t read, pictured above.

After I read these, we’ll have four more books we can discuss. And this time, we won’t wait 20 years. We’ve already set the date.

Against self-expression

Saturday, February 13th, 2021
Painted (on commission) by Hieronymus Bosch

Today, on a Zoom call, David Thomas of Pere Ubu was saying again that “self-expression is evil.” He said it twice — once, 30 years ago, in a television interview that a couple dozen of us were now watching with him, and again, afterward, to us.  And of course many other times over the years in other interviews.

Thus the answer to why in its 45-year history Pere Ubu has recorded almost no love songs. 

This served as a reminder that this tough-mindedness is part of why I could never cozy up to the singer-songwriter movement of the 1970s, but instantly sutured myself onto Pere Ubu 35 years ago when I first heard them.

But before I go on let me be careful not to ascribe to David, whose work I admire tremendously, opinions that are mine and not his. Whatever he means by “self-expression” may not be what I mean by “self-expression.” I generally mean that baring one’s soul through art is not in and of itself interesting; a few drinks with a friend at a pub would sort that out better. Doing it through what you think is art is actually quite boring — as evidenced by the sort of poem that used to appear in Reader’s Digest, and also by countless high-school journals, including mine, in which I endlessly pined for girls in ways that still embarrass me, 40 years later, because I can’t forget my own adolescent weakness.

If you’re lucky, people will be interested in your art.  If they were primarily interested in you, you’d be a reality TV star.

And that’s the way it should be for artists. Art first. Confession and “self-expression” never.

I’ve worked with hundreds (and hundreds) of playwrights over the past 30 years. And, of course, actors and directors and scenic designers and musicians and visual artists and choreographers and so forth. I take it for granted that they’ve all had hurtful childhoods — some of them actually hurtful, some of them a hurt of their imagination (which doesn’t make it any less real). Even after all these years, while I like almost all these people and am glad to know them, I find it hard to get worked up about their personal pain. By its nature it’s so self-involving that it just can’t be interesting. How interesting can childhood trauma be, if everyone’s had some version of it? Childhood trauma isn’t unique — it’s universal.

Art, on the other hand can be profoundly interesting when people put their hurt into it in service of the work. I’m not sad to say that I can’t get moved by the early death of John Lennon’s mother — but him screaming about it on Plastic Ono Band certainly gets my attention and approval. That isn’t self-expression, that’s art that includes self-expression. (And, anyway, was Julia’s death bad luck for him — or was it what he needed to become a Beatle? We should note that Paul McCartney also lost his mother in his childhood.) We know almost nothing about Hieronymus Bosch’s life, but I know all I need to know from his paintings, and I can assume that some of him is in there, even though they were painted on commission.

That’s how it should be.

If the art is interesting, the self that comes through that art is interesting. Art that serves as self-expression is best kept with your middle-school participation trophies, forgotten in a closet filled with such clutter.

In the other practice, self-expression is presented on a platter, a la those mawkish TV romances made for dowagers. Most of the explicit self-expression I see in would-be art is handed to us as confession. Confession and sharing are antithetical to conflict, and it’s conflict that makes art powerful. What are those classic three storylines? Man versus man; man versus nature; man versus himself. Note that each of those has a “versus.” On the other hand, when a character sits down and earnestly tells another character how sad she feels, you can feel the play sink like the House of Usher. This is why for years in my writing workshop, I’ve railed against plays whose central story is this:  “Grandma’s dying, and I feel sad.” Well, that’s you. How do we in the audience feel about it?

Pere Ubu, meanwhile, has achieved 45 years of powerfully moving work that is utterly devoid of sentimentality. Is it filled with feeling? Absolutely. Does it elicit feelings in the audience? Of course. The staying power of the music, and the thrill it engenders in its adherents, provide testimony to that. So too is attending a live show and seeing the impact of the music on all those assembled; there is a charge in the air, every time. But none of it is saccharine, none of it is handed to you, and none of it asks you to crank up emotions you don’t have. Like all great art, Pere Ubu respects the work too much for that. It would be degrading to stoop to mawkishness.

My Tweet with André

Saturday, November 21st, 2020

As I mentioned in my playwriting workshop today, I’m reading André Gregory’s memoir, “This Is Not My Memoir.” I track the progress of all the books I’m reading on Goodreads. When I update the app with my reading progress twice daily (once around lunchtime, and once around midnight) it puts out a tweet about my progress on reading that particular book. (I have it set up to do this; it’s an option.)

Last night I updated the app to log my progress on reading André Gregory’s memoir… and he saw my tweet and Liked it.

It’s the tiniest little thing, but it sent a thrill shooting through me. I’ve revered this man’s work for 40 years, since discovering him through “My Dinner with André.”  (My favorite film.) Mark Hamill once liked one of my tweets, and he seems like a nice guy, and some other well-known people have too, but to me it’s not like Andre freakin’ Gregory liking one of my tweets! A friend of mine interviewed André earlier this year, but this is as close as I’m likely to get.

By the way, his book is superb. Entirely engrossing! He’s a great storyteller, sharing tales in a limpid, crystalline style that communicates a great deal simply but deeply. He’s had quite a life! From encounters with Errol Flynn and Abbot & Costello and a host of surprising celebrities of the 40s and 50s to working with such varied characters as David Bowie and Helene Wiegel and Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone and Martin Scorsese and, of course, Wallace Shawn and so many other colorful characters. 

What’s next

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

This weekend, as with most weekends recently, has been consumed with straightening up my comic-book collection and working on my new play. I’m slowly running out of thousands of old comic books that still need to be paired with nice plastic bags and boards and carefully slid into comics storage boxes, and I also may finally be running out of ways to rewrite the same 119 pages, at least in a way that theoretically improves upon them. I’ve already got more delicious rotting old comic books on their way to my house, courtesy of eBay and Mercari, and at some point I suppose this play will be done.

This morning I had a very nice surprise on the weekly Pere Ubu live show on Patreon when the band’s manager, the smart and very talented Kiersty Boon, sang me happy birthday, which even earned a nod from David Thomas. Again, a nice surprise. If you’re not on the Ubu Patreon platform yet, you’re going to want to watch that and much here, so here’s the link. Earlier in the week, I had posted on Facebook that all I wanted for my birthday was a new-new Pere Ubu album (a new one having just come out a month or so ago), at which a fellow fan and friend remonstrated, “Oi, Lee! You’re such a greedy boy!” But on the show, Kiersty and David announced that there is now indeed a new-new Pere Ubu album available for download, proving yet again that when you want something, you should put that want out into the universe in order for it to happen. In retrospect, I wish I had wanted Donald Trump out of office for my birthday.

While doing my self-appointed chores today (laundry; work on play; straighten up more comics; complete the online Sudoku Mega; pick more avocados from our tree for my wife to barter at work), I still found time to take on a bunch of objectivists, libertarians and crackpots on the Facebook page dedicated to the late Steve Ditko, best known as co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and as an acolyte of Ayn Rand. The thread started when someone posted a lunkhead op-ed claiming that the nation had met its ruin because we weren’t adhering to the most extreme sort of religious evangelism, and equating protesters with rioters (never mind that the nation was founded protesters who rioted, and that most of us who have protested several times in our lives have never once rioted). When, finally, after much back-and-forth between myself and several other people posting, the original author admitted that he’d never even read the thing he linked to, for which he then got eviscerated by others, I declared victory and left the discussion. But not before one of the commenters assured us all that if he were in charge, this rebellion would be put down fast! I offered that Google could provide driving directions, should he gather the momentum, and that in the meantime he should beware paper cuts while reading those old comics.

Whenever I finish a TV show or movie or book, I get an email from Netflix or Goodreads asking me “What’s next?” Y’know what, guys? When I know, you’ll know. Let’s just leave it at that. Especially in 2020, no one knows what’s next.

Catchy!

Saturday, March 28th, 2020

Catchy. (Just like coronavirus!)

 

 

Biting wit

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019

I woke up this morning feeling pretty good about a whole bunch of things, but by luck three hours of extensive dental work put a quick ending to that. Yes, there’s nothing like dental work to give you a good dose of reality.

This particular session with my dentist — excuse me, team of dentists, in this case, this job being too big for any one person to manage alone — certainly sharpened my perceptions. Over the course of the morning, I found time to debate which drilling sound was worse (the low rumbling blaster-drill, or the high shrieking needling drill?), and to generally imagine all the ways in which I might improve my life if I survived this. Throughout, the team did its best to provide comfort and alleviate suffering, and they certainly went the extra mile. Most of us have had dental anesthesia injected into the gum area where the dentist is going to work; I suspect far fewer of us have had the good fortune to have injections all across the top gum line, all along the inside of that top gum line, and then in the roof of our mouth as well. Just another mark of distinction for this case, I guess.

As the drilling and sawing and scraping and jackhammering and power-washing and, yes, the actual use of pliers, was going on for, oh, about a century, I also reflected on how much worse this would have been in the old west. We don’t get to see too many dental scenes in Westerns — I suspect mostly because the people who’ve made such movies have rightly concluded that no one wants to see them — but I have an expansive imagination capable of filling in the missing scenes. We would have seen our hero chugging down a bottle of whiskey first, then lying there with his head tightly belted down to a table while the “dentist” (more likely, town doctor — which would also save on casting another role, given that most of those movies already had someone playing town doctor) works at him with  hammer and chisel and two attendants struggle to hold him down while we see his legs flailing wildly in the air. My feet stayed firmly placed atop the chair’s footpad, although my head jerked powerfully each time my palate was pierced with an injection needle. So my experience seems like an improvement.

Once it was all over, my entire cranium, jaw, and face felt like the aftermath of explosive demolition, with smoke still rising from the blast site. I managed to struggle out of the chair and pick my way back to my car and home, where I addressed the situation with two Alleve and a tumbler of bourbon and attempts at distraction. I looked at the newspaper, but that made my head hurt worse, so then I looked at Facebook and Twitter, but containing as they did most of the same outrage reflected in the newspaper, that was no help, so finally I went online and did a mega-Sudoku puzzle. That was a pretty good 23 minutes. The rest of the day, I dozed on and off, made two phone calls where I had to explain why I could barely talk, and generally moped around.

In all things, I believe in balance. So, given this travail and the need to counter it, and because I had clearly survived, I decided to go to Spain in a few weeks. In a stroke of good timing, it turns out that while I’m there I can see this universe’s foremost band, Pere Ubu, in concert in Madrid. Sure, it might be that I had already bought the ticket to Spain and the ticket for the concert, but I’m still mentally connecting it to the ordeal of the dental work. I already feel better.

Whoooo boy!

Monday, October 14th, 2019

 

Three big shocks from one evening last weekend:

1.

A friend and I went to see The Who on Friday night on what I’d been calling their “Who’s Left?” tour. I wasn’t especially interested in going — I’d bought the tickets as a present for my wife, who loves “Tommy,” but she was ill — but I came away impressed with the show, and impressed as hell with Roger Daltrey. Daltrey is now 75, and not only does he look fantastic, but he can still really sing, and really belt out those screams. This is a man who has taken care of himself and continues to do so! The set is cleverly constructed to allow him strategic use of those screams — before each song requiring a huge vocal blast, there is a long orchestral interlude, or a song sung by Pete Townshend, or a more low-key song, or all three  — and that’s only one sign of the incredible professionalism The Who brings to their show. At this point in their careers, and their lives, Townshend and Daltrey could be coasting; each could have all sorts of backup people supplying actual vocals and actual guitar work while these two breeze through the show. Far younger acts than these guys rely on just those tricks. The surviving members of The Who, though, seem committed throughout to delivering a high-caliber evening and doing it honestly.

Moreover, they’ve got a new album coming out. Not because they have to, but because they want to. Specifically, in interviews, Townshend has said he wants to prove that he can still write good songs for Daltrey to sing. Their occasional recent (past 20 years) forays into new material have shown he can. “Real Good Looking Boy,” from 2004, matches up well with most of their catalog, has a real depth of feeling, evoking as it does childhood hurts, and Daltrey sings the hell out of it.

The shock of this was just how freaking good this band is — still! — live in concert.

2.

The opening act, by contrast, was Liam Gallagher, formerly of Oasis. Let me just say, whoever booked Liam Gallagher to open is a genius, because he and his band are so terrible that they make The Who look all the more brilliant! Large barnyard animals sing better than Gallagher and bring more to a stage presence as well, and his band did nothing to hide this fact. He seemed to have two drummers on stage — one of them also named Gallagher, so I’m assuming that particular drummer isn’t on the tour purely on talent — and I’m reasonably certain I can play drums better than they… and I don’t play the drums.

I’m shocked that, ten years after the final death knell of Oasis, Liam still has a career. Of sorts.

3.

At some point, one can’t help but tally what an evening costs. Most of these charges come as no surprise.

The tickets were $80 each — plus that lovely “convenience” charge — so they were about one hundred bucks each. Okay. A Broadway show costs more, and so does a massage you’ll forget about in a week.

My friend and I met beforehand for dinner (sushi and drinks), and that was $80 in toto with tip — not a bad deal for a Friday night dinner at a nicer restaurant.

Parking was $30 each — ouch! — but another friend of mine runs this particular church and if some entity is going to get $60 in parking money, I’m glad it’s this one. They do good work in the community and help a lot of homeless and bereft people, and the parking is a short, invigorating walk from the Hollywood Bowl, with easy get-in, get-out for your car.

But here’s where I draw the line:

The tickets (purchased, again, as a date night for my wife and me) were on me. Because my friend bought dinner, I offered to buy snacks at the Bowl. Here’s what two pretzels and two beers cost at the Hollywood Bowl:  FORTY-EIGHT DOLLARS.

Let me repeat:  Two Pretzels and Two Beers cost FORTY-EIGHT DOLLARS at the Hollywood Bowl.

That was by far the biggest shock of the night.

Today’s music

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

My 17-year-old son had plans today to spend the day with some friends. Getting ready to take a shower, he asked, “Do you mind if I play some music?”

I was lying down in the adjoining bedroom, hanging out with the dogs and reading.

“No,” I said, bracing myself for some harsh rap.

But instead I heard some sort of modern rock come on. It sounded pretty good! In fact, song after song sounded pretty good. I recognized the Killers, a band I like, and some others; one song summoned a sense of familiarity, but I couldn’t place it, so I got closer and hit the Shazam app on my phone and found it was by Foster the People. Of course! It sounded just like Foster the People, and I like Foster the People. I went back to my reading.

When he came out of the shower, I called for him. He came into the room. I was thrilled to hear all this new music and wanted to share my excitement. I’ve been concerned that I was finally falling behind in what’s current in music, or what I could relate to — but this was good stuff! Maybe I’d find out what it was and load it onto my phone.

“Hey!” I said. “I liked what you were playing. In fact, I liked all of what you were playing! That was really good.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s the music of my childhood.”

“Huh?”

“The music of my childhood. That music is from the 2000’s. My childhood.” Then he left.

Well, it’s still new music to me.

The Main Thing

Saturday, August 31st, 2019

BryanFerry190829

On Thursday night, my wife and I went to see Bryan Ferry at the Greek Theatre here in Los Angeles. This was the eleventy billionth time we’ve seen Mr. Ferry in concert, so I think we qualify as committed fans. We’re not alone in that; the venue was sold out, and we fell into a nice exchange with other committed fans all around us. The singer, who doesn’t have a new album out, billed this world tour as doing songs from Avalon, by his old band Roxy Music, as well as solo hits, and at the end the guy behind me, of similar age as me, pointed out to me that Ferry hadn’t performed “To Turn You On” from Avalon. Which was true. So it was that sort of crowd.

The first time I saw Bryan Ferry was with Roxy Music, in 1983 in Philadelphia, on what was also the last time anyone saw Roxy Music for a very long time. (They did a reunion tour in 2001, and a few since then.) When you’ve seen the same performer many, many (many) times, and you’ve also seen many, many other concerts (I’m seeing three within the course of eight days — Ferry, King Crimson, and Karen O & Danger Mouse) you can tell the people who are really committed to their act and to their performance. I have a close friend who adores Sting and who has complained about the times when Sting has phoned it in. Mike Love’s version of the Beach Boys, which sounds great in the way a well-trained Beach Boys cover band that happens to have Mike Love and Bruce Johnston in it would sound great, plays for 90 minutes on the dot, and then they are out of there; Brian Wilson, meanwhile, will give it his all, but his all is vastly diminished from what it once was, and the last time I saw the legendary and extremely important-to-me Brian Wilson, well, he sang off-key, and it broke my heart. I’ve seen Elton John all of once (not a fan of his music), but after seeing him early this year at the Staples Center, I came away understanding people’s fanatic devotion to him. I still don’t like his records  — much of it sounds like rollerskating-rink music to me — but in concert, it turns out that he lives up to his reputation as an incredible showman, but that he delivers like a blues singer. I don’t know if that’s because his register has dropped, but whatever the cause, the vocals were administered in an almost thunderous gospel sense, and the tinny sound of the records was gone, his aged three drummers can really hit it, and his show was 100% incredibly enjoyable, especially to a non-fan who quickly found himself converted.

What I would say about Bryan Ferry — in every concert I’ve seen him play and, seriously, that’s at least 10 times  — is that he loves performing and that he brings everything he’s got every time. He also seems to love Los Angeles. In 2014, we saw him in Santa Barbara; he put on a fine show, but it wasn’t the love fest we’ve seen in L.A.  At the Greek the other night, he was positively beaming, because we were beaming at him. He sounds great, and he’s got a great band who’ve been with him a while and who seem to know the entire catalog. On any given tour, Ferry will play the Roxy songs you want, many of his own songs that you want, and then do unexpected deeper cuts you didn’t expect. This time, he played “The 39 Steps” from his 1994 solo album Mamouna, which I think I last heard him play… never.

Top to bottom, we had a glorious evening. The tickets weren’t inexpensive — let’s just note here that the parking was $45 — but our seats were 13th row, which afforded enough proximity to get the full physical effect of a band right in front of you, without getting your ears sheared off. The Greek has excellent acoustics, and its open-air quality assists the atmosphere immeasurably. When you’ve got seats like that, you’re less likely to be obstructed by a human wind sock dancing for two hours directly in front of you, as happened once to a friend next to me in a cheap seat near the back of the venue. You’re also less likely to encounter a middle-aged boozer couple tormenting their young children by 1) bringing them to a Monkees concert they’re not interested in, and 2) getting thoroughly smashed in front of them. No, down in the 13th row, it’s the responsible people, who have made an investment in the evening and are now seeking their return on investment.

Back in the car, and on the way home, and in our house, neither of us had one negative thing to say about the show or any aspect of the experience. We are smart, educated people, surrounded by offbeat highly educated intellects who come to our house and promptly debate things, which means that at heart we are critical people. Even when we’ve said nothing, usually, we’ve made critical notes.

This time? Nothing. It was all splendid. We felt fortunate.

Then, just before bed, the dogs having been patted and the house secured, my wife said, “You know… I hate to say anything… but I hated that jacket he was wearing. It was like… an old man jacket.”

I looked her in the eye and said, “I know! Did you see the cuffs on his shirt? The cuffs of his shirt were huckered! And what about that cheap-ass tie? I used to have a tie like that — when I was 18!”

Bryan Ferry, who from Day One has been an immaculate fashion plate, a rock star noted for performing in tuxedos and for starring in glamour layouts, in our eyes showed up looking like a geezer waiting at a bus stop. We couldn’t believe it.

Otherwise, though, great show!

Special appearances

Saturday, June 29th, 2019

Last August, I was unexpectedly invited to a private friends-and-family music festival Robert Wheeler and his wife Linda decided to throw on their farm by the river back in the outskirts of Milan, Ohio. I had met Robert, the synthesizer and theremin player for the world’s greatest band (that would be Pere Ubu) online a year or two earlier, and he knew I’d gone to their shows here in LA for decades, and then down to San Diego to see them on their most recent tour, and then went last spring to London expressly to see the only play date on their tour to feature all nine members who appeared on the most recent album. So for the third time in a year, I got on a plane to see the band — because who wouldn’t want to go see the world’s best band in a private concert on a farm long held by the family of Thomas Edison’s sister? I wouldn’t have missed that for anything.  I wrote about that trip, and that incredible homespun music festival here.

Last Saturday, a smaller, and very LA version of something similar played out here and I got to go again. And again, it was thanks to the internet.

Just before Christmas last year, I was reading the reviews of holiday albums posted by Rolling Stone online. Every year, I like to buy a new holiday album just to bring some new spark to the Christmas festivities. I had already bought The Monkees’ Christmas album, hoping for a repeat of their true final album, the sensational Good Times!, but was disappointed to learn that essentially it was two solo albums (Micky and Mike) sutured together with one abominable performance by the ailing and soon to be deceased Peter Tork. While it had its bright spots, it so hit-and-miss that I couldn’t imagine playing it when friends came over. So I was looking for another.

KringleTingleThe artwork for this one stood out, as did its title:  “The Kringle Tingle.”  Here’s the review, courtesy of Rolling Stone:

I look them up and see the words “country soul” and “swamp funk.”  A strong start with covers of “Linus & Lucy” and “Santa’s Got A Brand New Bag” and I love the sound of the horns.  It really kicks in with the original “Christmas Time In Bossier City” which feels like a song every radio DJ should be adding to their holiday broadcasts, it’s like the ghosts of vintage Springsteen and Van Morrison conspired to create a melancholy new holiday classic with some meat on the bone.  “Don’t Go Chasing Santa Claus” is a straight-up TLC spoof, believe it or not, and is the more festive option for that holiday party playlist.  “Santa Comes To Atlanta” is another original that is goddamn lovely.  Fuck it, I start skipping ahead a little, not because I am bored but because I am confident this is a solid record.  Good covers throughout, nothing too obvious, and even better originals.

So I sample it online, can’t believe how great this sounds — how incredibly fun and energetic and soulful and just filled with the joy of being alive, so I buy it. And then, from Christmas straight into January, I listen to it over and over and over and over and over again, knowing nothing about “Shinyribs” (is that a person? and band?) but loving every instant of it and wondering how the hell it wound up at NUMBER 50 on the list of 50 new Christmas Albums in a review that damned it with faint praise. If it shouldn’t have been number one, it still merited a ranking higher than FIFTY.

Come March, I’m on my way to another godforsaken dental appointment, wondering how terrible this one will be, and I’m listening to music on shuffle in my car, and damn if a track from this album did come up. Magically, I suddenly felt better. Sure, at some point I might have whole suspension bridges erected inside my mouth, but there will always be Shinyribs music, and it will always perk me up. Feeling extremely moved by music — as it is the job of music to do — I look up the Shinyribs website to see where and when they or he is going to play and see that it’s usually Texas (that’s where Shinyribs is from), and consider a trip to Texas, and wonder how I can wrap it up in some business work to write off the trip, but then I realize this is unrealistic for now given my schedule, but I do see evidence of a West Coast tour! I look at the dates… but somehow, inconceivably, there are no Los Angeles dates. Not a one. A little chastened, I find Shinyribs on Twitter, post a heartfelt tweet about how great the music is and how sad I am to see no play date in LA, but optimistically offer that at some point I look forward to coming down to Texas to see the show. Shortly thereafter, I get this unexpected private message:

Screen Shot 2019-06-29 at 10.45.36 PM

 

I couldn’t believe my good fortune! The kindness and generosity of these musicians and, in 2019, their lack of paranoia about my possibly being a nut job, still floors me. My business partner says that when you put something out into the universe, it comes back to you — so, yes, they are responding to my love for their music. But still:  They’re taking a risk on me.

As the date drew closer, and I exchanged a few more messages with Kevin Russell, the lead singer and guitarist of Shinyribs (yes, it’s a band), and after I’d watched all of their videos online and bought more of their music, this was sent to me:

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And that’s how my wife and I happened to be at a private backyard concert last Saturday, hoo-dooing with Shinyribs and about 50 strangers. Everyone we met was nice, the food and drink and hospitality of the host were incomparable, as promised we brought a nice gift for said host, and we had an absolutely awesome time. My wife said of the band, “They’re in the business of joy.”

My wife Valorie, Kevin Russell of Shinyribs, and me

My wife Valorie, Kevin Russell of Shinyribs, and me

The video snippet above unfortunately doesn’t include Kevin’s soulful, energetic, singing. But it does give you a taste of the band, which is in my mind somehow related to the band Little Feat, with similar energy but more heat. If this is how good they sound at a backyard function, imagine how great they were on Austin City Limits. (Or:  go watch to it.)

Two nights ago, my wife and I went to see Eddie Izzard at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Throughout the show, Izzard says you’d better make your life an adventure. I do my best to enjoy every day, and to help other people enjoy theirs if I can. But I will always remain dumbstruck by the sheer luck I’ve had throughout my life in meeting tremendously talented people who are also generous enough to invite me to things like this.