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


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A good year (in many ways)

Saturday, December 30th, 2023

Every year, New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof shares the good news in what seems otherwise to have been a bad year. 

“[Even with Gaza, Darfur, Trump, and climate change], something else is also true: In some ways, 2023 may still have been the best year in the history of humanity.”

Two factors he lists: In 2023, global child mortality reached a record low, and extreme poverty also reached a record low (about 8% of people worldwide). 

It’s easy to overlook the positive, as Kristof notes:

“None of this eases the pain of those who have lost their children in 2023, nor is it a balm for those caught in war or climate catastrophes. Yet at year-end, it’s worth acknowledging this backdrop of progress — not to distract anyone from all that is going wrong, but to offer a reminder that when we try hard enough, we can accomplish amazing things. Right now, looking at the anguish worldwide, I’d say we’re not trying hard enough.”

In that spirit, and in recognition of the good luck I’ve been blessed with, and also with recognition that many people haven’t, both among my circle and elsewhere in the world, I have to acknowledge that I’ve had a good year. Maybe it also helps to be older, and wiser, and to recognize good happenings when they happen to you. 

Here are just some of the highlights.

Romance

Atlantic City, September 2023.

In May, I met and fell in love with my girlfriend. Instantly. I don’t understand how this happened, but when she showed up at the restaurant where we’d agreed to meet, I was struck by a thunderbolt that told me, “This is it. This is the woman.” I’d had many dates, and two previous actual girlfriends, over the course of two-and-a-half years, but this was instantly different, because she was and is instantly different. I’ve been in love before, and vividly recall how I felt when at age 20 I met my now ex-wife, but I don’t know if I ever before knew what romantic “butterflies in my stomach” meant. And every day since then, I ask myself what I can do to do even better, to keep this going, and if possible to keep it going for, oh, the next three decades. She tells me that she loves me too. I can’t believe my good fortune.

So, right there, that has made for a damn good seven months. Long may it last.

Music

2023 was a terrific year for music, with spectacular new albums from old-timers like Yo La Tengo, Peter Gabriel, Blur, John Cale, and Pere Ubu. Even the Rolling Stones put out a new album that I think is pretty good — and I don’t generally care for the Rolling Stones.

Lots of great concerts in 2023, too, most memorably Yo La Tengo (!!!) at the Teragram Ballroom, and Devo (even more exclamation marks) at the YouTube Theatre, at which I got so excited that my girlfriend caught me on video pogoing along to the music.

It was an honor to host two members of Pere Ubu at my house this summer (!), and for my sons and I to help the band load in and load out for their fine show here in Los Angeles. And I enjoyed meeting up with other longtime Pere Ubu fans for drinks after the show in New York, which I flew in to see.

Theatre

Let’s be honest:  It’s always a dice roll going to see a new play. Jukebox musicals may be idiot-proof (enlist some great singers to do classic songs you love against the backdrop of a thinly concocted narrative), but the successful production of a compelling new play is a true highwire act. Forty years of attendance has taught me that if you expect a 90% failure rate, you’ll never be disappointed. There were other plays I enjoyed, but these were the two standout productions this year:

“Heroes of the Fourth Turning” at Rogue Machine, an intellectually honest look at extreme-right-wing evangelicals and their worldview, brilliantly written, acted and directed, was a production I doubt I’ll ever forget. I don’t go to the theatre to be entertained, I go to delve; one way I can be sure I’m in the right place is if a few disgruntled fellow attendees leave mid-scene. In this particular case, success! Those of us who stayed were riveted.

“Kill Shelter” at Theatre of NOTE, about a struggling single mom who also has to daily euthanize dogs who have no future, was both heartbreaking and uplifting — and, somehow, occasionally comic. When each puppet-dog was put down, I cried, even though it was a thing of wire and felt; to someone who has spent 45 years in the theatre, that was epic suspension of disbelief. The play also offered an even-handed defense of kill shelters, a subject I’m sure most people would rather not hear about. Ashley Rose Wellman is a young playwright of talent. I wish I’d seen this earlier in the run, because I would have gone to see it again.

Life and Death

My mother died. That might not seem like a good thing, but it was. She was 98, she figured her time had come, so she lay down, slept for a few days, and passed away. Making her, right to the end, an inspiration. If you pray to a god, you should pray to that god that some day you’re so strong and wise as to be able to do the same. Almost none of us will get this kind of death. Will I miss her? Absolutely. My father died 31 years ago, and I still miss him. But they both left me a lifetime of instruction, so I’m grateful.

Family and friends

Playing Cosmic Encounter, of course: me, son Dietrich, John D., son Lex, and great-nephew Brody, November 2023.

I took my son to London for 10 days, my other son came to join us for Thanksgiving, those two plus my daughter and I were all together for my mother’s services, my great-nephew has come to stay with me twice, and I got to spend five days with my whole extended family back East both in September and earlier this month. It’s been a good year for family.

It’s also been a great year for friends, both new friends, and friends of 40 years. 

If you’re lucky, your romantic partner will have quality family and friends of her own, and mine sure does. We’ve been having dinner and playing cards with her sisters and her brother-in-law (and at some point, I will win). We’ve gone to lots of events with her circle of friends — what I’ve started calling her Legion of BFFs — and always had a great time, whether it was the Pops in the LA County Arboretum, the holiday light show, a country-club fundraiser, dinner and drinks, or seeing the Barbie movie. Good people attract other good people. 

As for my own friends, the level of caring some of them dropped on me when my mother died, as well as the heartfelt way they embraced my new love, said everything about their friendship. Friends I hadn’t seen in decades showed up at my mother’s viewing to pay their respects. Others called me more than once just to make sure I was doing okay. My friend Ski single-handedly cooked and catered an entire evening for all attendees at my sister’s house the night before my mother’s funeral service. True friends show up for you even when it isn’t fun.

2023 and 2024

At The Americana at Brand, November 2023.

If you haven’t had a good 2023, I’m sorry.

I’m sharing all these successes because I know I’ve been lucky. And because I know luck runs out. Not every year will have as many bright spots. More people will die, you will meet with misfortune, your health will fail, some despicable figure might make a comeback.

But when you have this much love dropped on you in a year, you must acknowledge it. Both to get through the bad times, and because you want to do right. Only a churl would let good times go unrecognized.

My best to you in the new year. Even when trouble befalls – and it will — pick up on the positive.

In praise of plotlessness

Sunday, April 2nd, 2023

“Suspense is cheap,” my writing professor told me when I was an undergrad. But he was a poet who for some reason was teaching fiction writing to a fledgling playwright, so what did we know? If your literary sensibilities are informed by the short stories showing up every week in The New Yorker, then no, there’s no suspense, no plot, and probably no conflict, just theme. Most of those stories end with a tiny “ah-hah” moment, only slightly a twist, and only barely ironic.

(I say this as an admirer of many of those stories.)

Movies, most of them, operate differently of course. There, suspense is the principal factor: How will our hero Tom Cruise get out of it this time? The answer:  with CGI. Ditto comic books, which is where most movies now take their cue.

Theme without plot as we generally understand it is principally the province of literary work, either on the page or in the theatre, whereas plays that flow primarily from plot are old-fashioned. We now view plays that operate mostly from plot as melodramas; literary plays as exemplified by Harold Pinter and Caryl Churchill and Ionesco or Beckett may have some element of plot, but they mostly investigate and express themes. Audiences get less caught up in asking what’s going to happen than in trying to understand what they’re watching and what to make of it. The real whodunit is a whatisthis.

What brings this to mind is a weekend of seeing two of these thematic and ostensibly plotless pieces:  “Playtime,” the Jacques Tati film, and a dynamic production of “Love and Information” at the Antaeus Theatre.

“Playtime” presents a fascinating case. Its two-hour runtime is occupied mostly by the bumbling of our hero, Monsieur Hulot, as he is waylaid while trying to meet for a job interview, and later as he’s the unfortunate participant in the very bad opening of a new Parisian restaurant. Add in a young American tourist who wanders into and out of scenes and occasionally encounters him and you have just about the entirety of the story. But the story is beside the point. The point here is that the then-new age of 1964 presents a confusion of ill-conceived modern technology that alienates and flummoxes everyone who comes into contact with it. Useless gadgets fill our lives, and constant intrusions by the latest things and ideas drain our attention. While we’re all individuals, we may have one or two or three doppelgangers in any crowd, making us easily mistaken for someone else. The theme? The creators are at the mercy of the systems and services they’ve created. In an AI age, that’s compelling.

It should also be said that “Playtime” is riveting and funny. While bereft of plot, it’s full of action — and also tightly choreographed sight gags that fill every scene. What makes the movie so watchable is the fear it creates that one might miss something by looking the wrong way. Tati abjures closeups; the entire film is told through master shots, forcing us to choose where to look. Sometimes there’s too much to see, while other times potential distractions are stripped away to present us simply with a chair to be sat upon or a portfolio to be unzipped loudly.

That this abstract film lured more than 400 attendees out to see it and then resulted in raucous laughter and applause is a testament to its achievement. That it does it without much in the way of what we ordinarily consider a story puts paid the myth that Aristotle must be obeyed.

After seeing “Playtime” on Friday night, I caught “Love and Information” on Saturday night at the Antaeus in Glendale. I will go anywhere I can, any time I can, to see a play by Caryl Churchill, a brilliant playwright who tears off the shackles of conventional storytelling norms but nevertheless produces completely absorbing tales. In this particular play, 49 separate short scenes ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes set about immersing us in the reality of modern human life:  quests for information, conflicts and debates about misinformation, people coming together and breaking apart. 

Further credit where it’s due:  The script comes with no stage directions, no character names, not even any character descriptions, so every choice must be made by the production cast and crew. In this case, director Emily Chase and the cast have made decisions to situate each of the varied scenes in various places and to cast them as they saw appropriate. We may be watching what’s clearly staged as a couple, but listening to the text reveals that that has been designated by the production, not the playwright. Some scenes now take place on iPhone screens we see projected on the walls. The dominatrix in one scene isn’t referenced in the text; neither the raucous music behind the wall or the evident interrogation going on aren’t clearly demanded by the writer. But every choice made by the cast and the director pulls it all together with the text to result in something completely entertaining, and riveting, and astonishing. I only wish it were running longer so I could go see it again.

Almost everyone know how to tell a story. We all know the rudiments:  beginning, middle, and end. But there are other sorts of stories, stories that don’t have all those elements, and don’t have things like rising conflict, and opposition, and denouement, and more.  Plot is by nature mechanical; theme is emotional. The advantage the theatre presents us with is the presence of the actors and of each other — the sense that we are all of us in this room at this time for this one time and that we’re all going to share in a feeling larger than ourselves. 

You can engage in plot. But in the theatre, you must pursue theme.

My Oscars tradition

Sunday, March 12th, 2023

Yesterday, rooting around in the refrigerator after my playwriting workshop, I laid eyes on a wrapped offering purchased the night before from our local supermarket.

“Hey,” I said to my son. “Tomorrow night, we can cook this roast and eat it while we don’t watch the Oscars.”

“Sounds good,” he said. Then he added, “I don’t think I’ve ever watched the Oscars.”

He already knows I don’t watch them either.

So that’s our Oscars tradition: not watching the Oscars. It’s somewhat related to not seeing almost any of the nominated films. I did see “The Woman King,” and thought it was flat-out terrific, a great old-fashioned kind of heart-tugging action movie the sort of which Hollywood made regularly in its Golden Age. So of course it wasn’t nominated for anything.

While the Academy Awards are on tonight, we’ll probably play a game and then we’re definitely going to watching “The Last of Us.” .A few weeks ago was our not-Super-Bowl-Sunday. I think he played “League of Legends” while I did some writing and read a book.

If you enjoy the Oscars, or the Super Bowl, cheers to you. They seem like nice things to get into with friends; I’m just not into them. My rule of thumb: I don’t care about any awards that I’m not up for. Which, when you think about it, leaves me nearly unlimited time to celebrate not-celebrating.

Attestations

Tuesday, February 28th, 2023
  1. I can attest to this: The movie “Cocaine Bear” is loads of fun if you’re seeing it for cheap on a Tuesday night with a friend who is sitting next to you in the movie theatre howling with laughter. But I can’t imagine watching it at home alone, or as anything other than a goof — which it is 100% intended to be.
  2. It has been raining in Los Angeles pretty much every day since December. This being the eve of March, enough is enough. Whoever schedules these things needs to do a better job. On Sunday night, I went to see a concert and thought, “Wow! It isn’t raining!” But when I left the concert, it was pouring while I scurried off to my car, having left the umbrella in the car because, well, it hadn’t been raining. This morning when I woke up the day was bright and blue and the air crisp. Over the course of the day, the sky darkened and I thought, “Oh, fuck, it’s coming again.” And it did.
  3. Over the course of all this, I’ve had a team of roofers out to my house eight times. Eight times. At some point, either they’ll get it right, or maybe they’ll just outlast the rain.
  4. I had assumed that the excellent noisy indie band Yo La Tengo would tour with additional musicians, being a three-piece band with a dense and complicated sound, especially on their excellent new album, “This Stupid World.” Nope. Sunday’s show revealed that the three of them are multi-instrumentalists who sample some of their sounds live and then set them to repeat while they go off to play other things, and that they generally move into different stations of the stage throughout. Don’t be surprised if the drummer takes center stage to sing, and the bassist is now also playing keyboards, and the “drums” are being handled by the guitarist on what sounds like a Casio. My first thought, watching this: Hats off to them for saving all that money on adding a touring musician or two!
  5. By the way, structurally the hero of that cocaine-sniffing bear movie is the bear. I’m not kidding. In the late parts of the movie, it’s the bear that’s the protagonist.
  6. Eight months ago for my birthday, a friend gave me a $60 gift certificate to a used bookstore in Pasadena. My current lady agreed to accompany me even though I warned her what I could be like in bookstores: relentless. I was rewarded by learning how remarkably patient she can be. Something else I learned: Sixty bucks can get you a big whopping bag of books, including three novels by Thomas McGuane, a favorite of mine, that I’d never read, plus two business books, novels by Joyce Carol Oates and Kim Stanley Robinson I’d been meaning to get to for some time, and assorted other things, including a Marvel comics giant I had as a kid, and was now able to get in near mint condition 45 years later for the bold price of $4.50. I wasn’t in any danger of running out of books to read around the house, but now I’m even better armed.
  7. I’ve been thinking lately of two writers in particular, Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. Because each of them wrote a science-fictional short story about rain that wouldn’t end. Right now, outside my window, I can hear Noah pounding nails into his big new boat. I like London enormously. I just never expected to be living there in Los Angeles.

Truth about Jeff Beck

Wednesday, January 11th, 2023

I saw guitar hero Jeff Beck, who died today, play live in 2013 here in LA. He opened for Brian Wilson — and, um… I thought he was kinda dull. I didn’t wish him dead, though!

He might have wished some harm to Brian Wilson & Co., though, given what he later said about that tour, in an interview that may provide a clue about Mr. Beck’s underwhelming performance.

Brian Wilson, by the way, sang off-key. I am second to none in my love and admiration for Brian Wilson and his music, but when Mr. Brian Wilson (!) sings flat, that’s the night I call it quits in seeing him “perform.” And that’s exactly what I did: told my friend who’d accompanied me that I loved Brian Wilson so much that, no, I could never again go see him perform because I’d never forget the sound of Brian Wilson ruining his catalog for me.

On a happier note, Roger Daltrey of the Who remains in fine fettle, and is somehow still a dynamic singer at age 78. You may feel reassured and ready to enjoy his live shows with abandon. Ditto Micky Dolenz, a mere 77, who still has the pipes, and is on a never-ending tour where he now sings “Hey, hey I’m the Monkee…”

If there’s a rock n’ roller you want to see play live, especially an elderly one, I wouldn’t wait. And given the rock n’ roll lifestyle, it’s amazing that some of them are still around.

Where no man has gone before

Monday, October 10th, 2022

Y’know what? I’m not too proud to announce my absolute enduring love of William Shatner.

Shatner was a big part of the twin poles of my moral and ethical upbringing, those signposts being “Star Trek” on one side and Marvel comics on the other. I’m not sure I realized just how much my entire belief system was built atop these two pop-culture foundations, but reading Sapiens last year made it all clear. Sometimes, when you apply the animal/vegetable/mineral quiz, you realize you are undeniably bauxite. I didn’t want to belong to the church of liberal humanism — of higher expectations, in a belief that humanity can and should do better, in the way promulgated by both “Star Trek” and those great Lee/Kirby Marvel comics, both of which showed us that people of different races and even different species could work together for the common good, both of which showed us what was right and what was wrong, and both of which called upon us to be our better selves — but I do.

And so this is why I bought a ticket to see Sunday’s “Shatnerfest” at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, so I could see the great man in person, even if it meant sitting through three of his middling (or worse) low-budget indie features of the 1970s.

Yes, sure, three low-rent William Shatner movies in a row. But then: William Shatner.

For the record:

“Kingdom of the Spiders” (1977) is one of the better “nature-gone-wild” horror movies of its era and, I think, of all time, and Shatner is honest-to-God impressive in it. He’s in his mid-40s, and looking fit and younger than his age, as he rides horses, ropes a steer, leaps around, and combats about a million actual live tarantulas. He’s witty and charming in the movie when it’s called for, he’s an action hero when needed, and he’s a good-looking roguish lover before Harrison Ford patented the character. Watching this movie allows you a glimpse into an alternative universe where William Shatner had a very different career.

“The Devil’s Rain” (1975) features Shatner in a supporting role, as both a 17th century reformed devil-worshipper and a modern-day combatant who loses his soul to the devil. The movie stars Ernest Borgnine and a bunch of other faded stars and soon-to-be’s, including Tom Skerritt and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him John Travolta. But it’s dull in the extreme, and, well, I drank a tall-boy beer during this one and fell asleep, safe in the knowledge that I was missing nothing. (You try staying awake for six straight hours of not-great 50-year old movies!)

Finally, “Impulse” (1974) is bad. Bad, bad, bad, in a way we once associated with drive-in movies later relegated to channel Z after midnight. It’s bad, but it’s not dull. The twin delights are Shatner as a ladies’ man who is also a demented serial killer (!!!) and a snotty pre-adolescent girl determined to foil his plans. No effort was made in making this a good movie. It was shot in 15 days (12 of them with The Shat) and for about nine bucks, but took in $4 million at the box office, making for a very good time for the director and the producers. And, judging by the audience Sunday, for audience members like me found it highly entertaining and howlingly funny.)

Then: William Shatner came out.

Shatner is 91 years old. I know other people in their 90s, and while I find them impressive in their own way, they haven’t been global pop-culture icons for going on 60 years, and they haven’t recorded albums and written novels and memoirs, and they for God’s sake have not gone up in space at age 90. They’re also not the sort of raconteur who can off-the-cuff keep an audience engaged for 45 minutes of freewheeling conversational fun without note cards and while doing lots of funny back-and-forth with the crowd.

Yes, I know The Shat has a reputation for being “difficult” (whatever that means), but I don’t care. I’ve never been called upon to make a TV show or a movie with him, and I never will be. I rely on Shatner for entertainment value, and he always delivers. Whatever he’s in, and whether he’s good in it, terrific in it, or just plain awful, he’s always always always watchable — unlike some highly regarded actors who get up their own backsides sometimes.

While I realize that William Shatner’s primary influence on my life is in playing a character he is not, I also credit him for his creativity and for his incredible drive, even at this advanced age. He is an inspiration — even to himself. One of the stories he shared Sunday was this one: When, last year, before setting sail for outer space courtesy of Jeff Bezos and earning his own “NBC News Special Report” on that spaceflight, he was given a last-minute chance while the ship was still on the gantry to change his mind and get out. He thought about it, he said… until his inner voice reminded him, “But I’m Captain Kirk!” The only course of action was onward and upward.

Shatner also said that, at age 91, he knows he’ll die soon. “Like…” he said, “in 20 or 30 years.”

Make it so.

The last Monkee

Friday, December 10th, 2021

Three weeks ago, a friend and I saw the surviving members of the Monkees in their final performance. However much my friend and I tried to wish it otherwise, it was a melancholy affair, given the sad state of Mike Nesmith, who died today.

Micky Dolenz, it must be said, remains a vital performer at age 76. Dolenz is one of the great unheralded pop singers of the past half century, someone with a terrific voice who is also a natural showman — he’s able to hit all the notes, still and as always, and his stage energy is miraculously undiminished. At this point I’ve seen many rock and pop performers in their 70s, and to my ear and eye, Dolenz is the best preserved. A few years ago I told a friend during a concert that this had to be the last time I’d see Brian Wilson, because I never expected Brian Wilson, of all people, to be off-key, and I didn’t want my fond memories of the Beach Boys tarnished. If you have a chance to see Micky Dolenz, who undoubtedly will continue touring, take it — he’s a wonderful performer, he’s glad to entertain you, and you’ll be glad you’re there for it.

Sadly, the same couldn’t be said of Mike Nesmith. Just three years earlier, he’d been in fine form in another performance, again with Dolenz, at the Orpheum in downtown Los Angeles — playing guitar, singing well, buoyant and happy to be there, shimmering with all the love the audience threw at him. Their duet on “Me and Magdalena,” absolutely the highlight of the Monkees’ penultimate (and transcendent) album “Good Times!” was delivered with all the keening heartfelt emotion required. But tonight, at the Greek Theatre, we were stunned to see that not only couldn’t Nesmith play guitar, or even hold one, he could barely stand. At strange moments, he would absentmindedly shuffle off-stage or simply wander around the stage in ways that had many of us in the audience worrying that he’d fall over; at other times, his expression made clear that he wasn’t sure where he was or what he was doing or even perhaps who he was. At one point, he cried awkwardly; at another, Mr. Dolenz had to call for him to return to the stage: “Nez! Nez! I need you for this song…”.

It has been a hard couple of years for many people. For Mr. Nesmith, perhaps harder. So when I learned today that he had died, I was saddened, but, given the evidence, not surprised.

It isn’t easy to say this, but here goes: He shouldn’t have been on-stage. When your audience spends a concert deeply concerned about your health, there’s something wrong with the event.

I don’t know how one could ever know when a performer should retire. One of my favorite performers, Dame Edna, retired a few years ago, still at her (his) height. While I wish I could see that act again, I recognize that that was a very high-wire act, filled with smart rapid-fire improv and audience-involved repartee that was doubtless growing more difficult for an octogenarian. When David Lee Roth hung up his tights a few weeks ago, I congratulated him on Twitter because it was quite evident that he could no longer sing, and if I had seen all the mocking videos of his recent performances, I’m sure he had as well. I wish him a happy retirement. Performers like to perform, and we like to see them do so… but we don’t want to see them when they shouldn’t be doing it any more, and I’m sure they don’t truly want to be seen in that light either.

While part of me is glad that I got to see Mike Nesmith one last time, and during his very final concert, a greater part of me wishes the last time I’d seen him was in 2018, when he was still radiant. I’ve always liked the Monkees (I’ve been seeing them in concert for 30 years), and I’ve always liked Mr. Nesmith’s singing and his songs. I’m grateful for all the music and all the good times. But the previous final tour should have been the final final tour.

When or if you have the chance and the interest, go see the last Monkee, Micky Dolenz. He’s still got it. For now.

Sparks flew

Sunday, June 27th, 2021

I enjoyed the new documentary “The Sparks Brothers” tremendously in a showing today with my elder son. The film, made by the obvious fanboy Edgar Wright, oozes with enjoyment of the band Sparks, an enjoyment I share. The style of the film is what I’ll call pop-collage — fitting for a band consumed with style and that has adopted different ones throughout their 50 years. It’s bright, entertaining, laugh-out-loud funny, and at the end joyous and moving. Deservedly, the reviews have been almost universally positive.

Almost.

Owen Gleiberman, in Variety, praises the film and also aspects of the band. But there’s one important thing he doesn’t like. Here’s his entire review, should you want to read it, but this seems like the summation:

“In fact, by the time ‘The Sparks Brothers’ is over, there’s only one thing you may not actually like about Sparks, and that (forgive me) is their music.There’s a reason why Sparks, after half a century, remained the pop music world’s best-kept secret. Their catalogue might be called ’25 albums in search of a hook.‘ “

Ouch.

This doesn’t leave me regretting the several Sparks albums I own, or my fond memories of seeing them on TV, or the numerous times I’ve seen them in concert, including in a tiny venue when it was just the two of them without a full band. His review doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm, and neither does my wife, who is of the strong opinion that Sparks “don’t know how to write a song,” and who whenever we’re riding together and one of the band’s songs comes on in my car will screech, “Ugh! Sparks! TURN THIS OFF!”

And sometimes, I do. Just for her.

Because we’re free to disagree.

And while as someone who not only admires the brothers Ronald and Russell Mael for their indefatigable devotion to their sometimes hopeless-seeming career but also enjoys their music and has at times proselytized on their behalf, I disagree with Owen Gleiberman about that music… I think he may have a point. Perhaps the brothers Mael don’t know how to write and deliver a hook… because hooks are associated with popular music, and their music is somewhat-known, but not “popular.”

I say this as a devotee of Pere Ubu, and Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, and Copernicus and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and Van Dyke Parks’ solo material, and Steve Reich, and innumerable other recording acts that have rarely if ever been “popular.”

These not-popular acts are popular with me. And with other devotees. Pere Ubu, especially, sounds aimed right at me. Whatever that is, it’s right for me. I felt that the first time I heard it. A friend said he turned on their album “20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo,” an album I consider one of their most accessible, and at the very beginning of the first song, his wife implored him to turn it off. Okay, it isn’t for her. That’s fine. I still get to have it. And I can’t ever get enough of it. And neither can some other people around the globe. There just aren’t enough of those people for the band to be considered mainstream.

So it doesn’t bother me a bit that Owen Gleiberman doesn’t like Sparks. Or, for that matter, that Robert Christgau, a critic who has hailed much of Pere Ubu’s catalog, positively pissed on their album “Why I Hate Women,” which I love. Having read all his Ubu reviews, I’ve decided that he likes his Ubu in a particular way, while I’m happy to journey with them wherever they go. It’s always an exploration, and this was one he didn’t come along for.

But.

Over on the Sparks fanboy page on Facebook, of course, there are people whose hair is on fire because Owen Gleiberman doesn’t like the band. At last count there were 55 angry comments about Mr. Gleiberman and his seeming ignorance; some of them are a losing soccer team storming the field. Some of them admonished him for not carefully listening to all 25 Sparks albums so as to expand his tastes before daring to write that review of the film. Reading through the thread of comments, I finally posted this:

“Y’Know what? It’s fine. He doesn’t like them. The idea that if only he’d hear more of it then he’d like it more is naive. I love Pere Ubu, the film ‘My Dinner With Andre’, and capers on my seafood — not everyone does. His opinion doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of Sparks one bit, and it won’t keep me up at night futilely trying to overturn it either.”

A few people thanked me for that, which was nice, but a fan named David remains Very Upset that the men in Sparks still can’t get complete and ultimate respect: “no man it’s not fine after 50 years to receive that kind of disrespect?!”

To which I replied, “Sure it is. Look at the slings and arrows suffered by Robert Crumb. Or Philip Roth. It comes with putting your work out in public.”

This shouldn’t have to be said, but I did say it there, so I’ll say it here as well: If every review had to be positive, what would be the point of publishing it — or of reading it?

In one segment of the film, it comes to light that Sparks did an album with Franz Ferdinand, another band I like, and called it FFS. I have that album, and I think it’s terrific — a collaboration between two bands with overlapping outlooks. That collaboration seems to have brought Sparks countless new fans in South America and Mexico, where Franz Ferdinand are popular. My son hadn’t heard that album, and on the way home said he’d have to get that, because the song played in the movie sounded great.

And that is one way to measure this film’s success: the number of adherents it’s going to add. Owen Gleiberman’s opinion won’t matter.

Now where’s the great Pere Ubu documentary?

Timely career tips!

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

Looking for work, but all the interviews are via video remote these days and you don’t want to come across as the star of “Ernest Goes on Zoom” ?

Worry not! Here are some great tips from my friend Oleg and the Los Angeles County Library.

Librarians truly do know everything!

Today’s weather report

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

A close friend back East serves as the volunteer meteorologist for our old college crowd, invariably posting on Facebook what the weather is, or will be, in his immediate neighborhood. Whether rain or snow or even clear blue skies, he provides a daily dose of dire warnings. If there’s even the barest hint of a potential calamity via hurricane or ice storm or meteor shower, he is on the digital scene first. Yes, we have access to weather.com, but traditional services such as that in no way compare. And, hey, forewarned is forearmed, especially coming from a trusted old friend.

Here in Los Angeles, we have someone else who provides a similar service. That person is David Lynch.

Here’s his weather report for today, delivered in a manner redolent of William S. Burroughs, but slightly less creepily.