Category Archives: Entertainment

Face the Music…

In a recent article, I was asked to answer a few questions about how music and wine might interact. And I found myself unable to limit my words on the issue, even if I was primarily focused upon answering the questions. Here’s what I wrote to the author:

Question 1 – Do you think that there exists a direct relation between music and the simultaneously consumption of wine?

I am obsessed with music, such that I have music playing in my head, playing in the car or at my computer almost continuously. It sounds a bit crazy but it’s my world. I don’t generally try to match music and wine together but they seem to be able to generate similar rhythms and similar moods even if music itself seems to me to be devoid of smell and taste. Wait, that’s not true.

But music is more universal an experience than smell and taste is to me; because smell and taste are very, very specific to some particular place and time. Some music will bring me back to a certain spot at a certain date, but the stuff that I love is far more transformative.

Wine is more temporal than music, but wine has rhythm; I honestly think it does or at least it can if you have music in your head nonstop as I do.

Question 2 – Did you make correspondent experiences [by that, I think the author wanted to know if I match them up] by yourself?

In general, no, but that’s because I appreciate counterpoint more than synchronicity. So I don’t want music and wine to match up; I want them to talk to each other. They may agree; they may argue. Sometimes they don’t speak at all; they just yell past each other. That’s cool too. I like the complexity. But I listen to a fair amount of pop music (in between the Japanese noise bands, the early country, the bebop, the garage bands, the postpunk, whatever), and there is no music that corresponds to pop for me. Everything else seems to have a correlation but not pop music.

Question 3 – Would you say (or would you say not) that specific grape varieties do accord with specific styles of music?

No, it’s more a matter of style of wine. What grape you use to make it is immaterial. Of course, styles are based upon certain grapes and certain regions, but the region and style play a lot more into what describes any particular kind of music than what grape you might have used to make that style of wine. California Merlot is very, very different than Merlot in Bordeaux. White Burgundy is a different sort of animal to California Chardonnay. One is incredibly complex and even wild (think Ornette Coleman); but big, buttery California Chardonnay is more like John Philips Sousa.

Question 4 – Which style of music (or exactly: which song) harmonize best to:

Riesling – think string quartets, Baroque to 20th century. Okay, sure, there’s more to consider but I think that string quartets are a remarkable art form.

Silvaner – – I have no idea. Okay, maybe, the Velvet Underground. Attitude, attitude, rhythm and more attitude. Great lyrics too. Oops. I’m off subject.

Chardonnay – as above; it depends upon where you grow it and hence what style it is

Rosé – again, which rose? But this is as close to a boy band as any wine I can imagine.

Pinot Noir – again, which Pinot Noir? Oregon is almost muscular; sure it’s fruity, but there is a certain muscle behind it so I think Texas blues or Southern rock (maybe there’s a Kings of Leon connection I’ve never considered before). New Zealand is so delicate that it can be like a bird song; like a happy Meredith Monk tune, although I’m more in love with Meredith Monk’s wounded, unhappy songs, but that’s off subject. As with white Burgundy, red Burgundy is a wine that makes me think of orchestral music. This time, it’s not a quartet but a chamber orchestra. Sometimes it’s Vivaldi; sometimes it’s a lot more aggressive.

Syrah or Shiraz – at my own peril, I’ll ignore California Syrah (can be lovely; can be boring), Washington Syrah (which is often damned special but it’s too soon to characterize it in the way the editors are requesting) and even those marvelous examples from New Zealand, South Africa, Spain or Italy. So let’s talk that herbal, peppery fruit leathery thing that is the northern Rhone. If Parker or Dizzy had played French bistro music (dream on, Jacques Brel), they might have made these wines.

Merlot – Sure I said that wine isn’t pop music. But Merlot, like Champagne or sparkling wine, can come damned close. Merlot can produce wine that is somewhat silly, maybe even vapid, but sure of itself nonetheless, sexy, or at least about sex, youthful, and if over-confident, demanding that you take it seriously too. Like pop music. But I can also imagine Merlot as soul music; which I think of as pop with blues shined up by funk.

Cabernet Sauvignon – this is a formal music though it can be any kind of formal. Of course, you think of Bach but you also think of Astor Piazolla, another formal music straining at its limitations. Without those limitations, it would be seem untethered, ill-defined.

Grenache – nothing but folk music, though folk music from anywhere, so it could be salsa, it could be Blind Willie McTell, it could be Iraqi love songs, hell, it could be Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It could be from Cuba, from Appalachia, from South Africa, from Latvia, from Nigeria, well, you get the idea.

Sweet wine – girl bands for some of them, Christmas carols, songs of simple joy.

But maybe it was just the Riesling talking…

Follies tonight at New York’s Marquis Theater

Marquis TheaterLife is too short for the eternity of emotions, wrote Alexander Doeblin. And faced with a flashing cursor, it seems impossible to start explaining why certain works of art both wound me and sustain me.

I have never been able to leave my dreams behind: I was to write, to act, to sing, to dance, to do all these things, and I did briefly. My wife looks at me in bewilderment (pity or disgust?) and asks why I hang on to those tired rags. Why I want to try them on again, like an old man trying to put on his wedding tux. I played music too, she says. Okay, but unlike her, I thought that those toys were uniquely mine, and that I would be allowed to play with them to my last day. Because I could have. Perhaps. Perhaps.

But how can you say you wanted those things when you left them so long untouched? Now they fill a museum of carelessness. I embraced others, and I dropped all I held to open my arms to them.

Seeing Follies tonight, there is no way that with my particular history I would not be stung with regret. I knew that going in; I was eager anyway. I discovered the musical the summer of my college freshman year; someone I knew was connected to someone else who was going to direct a version and I was told to leave town, forget college and go audition for it. Nothing of the sort happened; I was collecting what dollars I could to head to school, and a theater company at my college had made a few (somewhat empty, it turned out) promises. I wasn’t going to cash it in just yet.

I never really did. But I studied that musical like it was a map to the road I missed taking, and it was. It’s not even important to consider how little my life would have been changed by that audition; it might have been unsuccessful and once the run was finished, what then? Probably back to school.

But Follies is a musical filled with regrets: some are banished with humor and spit, just ask Carlotta who sings the showstopper, I’m Still Here. But for the foursome who anchor the play, the regrets are debilitating: four crumpled, twisted lives. Saddest of all, two of them decide to act against those regrets, they try to alter their trajectories back to their dreams, and those two are crushed at the end of the play. Their dreams were, as Springsteen famously sang, “a lie that don’t come true, or is it something worse.”

Bernadette Peters portrays Sally, the mousy little thing who turns out to have some grandiose ambitions, and I had misgivings about the casting. But I forgot that Peters is a tremendous actress, and she has proven fearless at such roles; her emotions are as raw and present as any Sally we will ever see. Maybe it’s too much for some; I drank it in as if it could answer the questions I have always had about my regrets, my choices, because for Sally, this one moment is taken as her very last chance. I know in advance that it’s a hopeless gamble; we usually call that tragedy. Maybe that statement’s too much for some too; I don’t give a damn. Four figures are portrayed as misguided, hopeful, shaken, destroyed, and all against a background of a theater reunion, the last night before the theater itself is to be demolished. These four people are shadowed by their earlier, more hopeful selves; both present and past will commingle as we watch the younger four commit the mistakes that will guarantee such unhappiness later.

Frankly, it probably sounds a bit trite like a lot of musical theater, unless you’ve seen it fulfilled by brilliant performers like Peters, Jan Maxwell and Danny Burstein. Musical theater is celebrated contrivance; Sondheim’s genius was that by providing ironic back stories to each musical number, the better the characters perform their numbers, the greater their delusions.  We know these contrivances are empty forms, choreographed steps under klieg lights, but the more the characters believe in the songs they are singing, the less in touch with reality they show themselves to be. It’s not a pretty picture of performers, though maybe that’s just how I take the message. I’ve got my issues, as I’ve noted.

This conceit has led to some critical resistance to Follies; the characters are performing song and dance numbers that ostensibly could be part of a “Follies” variety show, and with unusual wit and lacerating irony. The Follies of another time were filled with beautiful girls, smart and sassy characters and all ended well, just like in the movies. For these four, nothing of the sort will happen. In the original production, fantasy won over reality, everyone was made young, confused and hopeful again because regrets so bitter were too much to face.

The new production allows the four to pick up what’s left and stumble out the door. Is it crueler than the original? Perhaps so, their fantasies are sundered along with their lives; the door to the theater slams shut. And that image was one more to add to my own collection of regrets; once again, I walk up the aisle like the rest and away from the theater, nothing more than a paying visitor who once dreamed of partaking in the fantasy on that stage.

at a bar in Des Moines, yep, it’s the good life

Drummie ZebAt the bar sits a thin dreadlocked man; he is being gushed over by a succession of young women. He's the drummer with the Wailers, who have just left the stage on the grassy riverbank next to the hotel. In fact he's called Drummie Zeb. He's drummed for ten years with legendary bass player Family Man (Aston Barrett) who, if you don't know, would be really amazing to drum with, or scary, I'm not sure which. He's very cool with it; Zeb used to play with Kenny Chesney. Paul Simon before that.

It's all the same, he laughs, of course you play different but you have to find your thing, the thing that makes them know who you are. He says, I tell my son who is a drummer to look for the way YOU play. So then I tell Zeb about wine competitions and how it's so important for a taster to be who their palate is, not who they think it should be, not what some more important person's palate is, but who you are. Conversely, it's also important not to be an asshole about it: if everybody disagrees with you, move on and find the next good wine. It's a pretty stupid analogy and Zeb is very polite about it. He's from Virginia; maybe it's southern manners. Later I am reading that Cy Twombly thought that living in Virginia was good preparation for living in Italy: something about faded grandeur.

Six Feet Under

Six Feet Under cast
Six Feet Under cast
I decided to watch Six Feet Under, one episode after another. I had never seen any of the series but my friends had told me it was great.

So I gave it a try and sixty-five some hours later, I had seen them all. It was quite an experience, needless to say, but before someone accuses me of wasting my life on TV, hear me out.

Long scale cinematic endeavors have always attracted me. I proudly own a copy of Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz. I saw “Our Hitler” in its theatrical release. I’ve seen Max Ophuls life-changing film, The Sorrow and the Pity, three times, which equals, what, twelve hours? I’d give twelve hours to have my life changed, again. I’ve whiled away lifetimes in front of the screen. I look good in green, I decided years ago, so a pallor gained from years of indoor activities seems almost a mark of honor to me.

It took me four seasons of Six Feet Under before I realized that having conversations with dead people is the best way to keep them among in the living. For that alone, I am grateful, and I’m trying to put it to use.

Six Feet Under devolves into nothing more than a melodrama, but one populated by fascinating actors. At times, it’s a comforting as a Lars von Trier movie (if you find having your kneecap broken to be comforting) but Bernard Shaw said that melodrama is “a realistic picture of our dreams”. Fraught with sadness and sin, the show embodies the tenet for which I continue to struggle: It is forgiveness that eases our suffering.

Owen/Cox Dance Group

Okay, let’s start with the premise that I have no free time. NO FREAKING FREE TIME, whatsoever. So, when I take the time to go to a dance performance (and this is coming from a former modern dancer, however brief was my career) and I don’t know anything about any of the dancers, no reviews, nothing, well, something’s up.

What’s up? Brad Cox, one of Kansas City’s greatest assets, one of the more exciting young musicians in the da U. S. of A. (imho) is married to the woman who is dancing and choreographing, and Brad is playing, along with some of the most brilliant musicians I am lucky enough to know, and yeah I’m there. Okay?

But two nights in a row? Yeah, I did that. I saw the Owen/Cox Dance Group on Thursday night — dragging my wife, who is dragging her ass, she’s the mother of two teenagers, works and is grad school and, hell, she’s married to ME for chrissakes, so like she’s already done for the day, and I drag her out to this show.

The next night I bring my mom and my eldest daughter, just so someone can sit there next to me as I grin from ear to ear or nearly start sobbing midway through various dances.

Jennifer Owen has some wonderful things to show us. For one, she’s a wonderful dancer, as are many in her troupe of nine. For another, she is an inspired choreographer, at least at times, and every time she is at least intelligent and imaginative. How many dances have you seen that make you laugh? In a good way.

Brad and some of the brilliant musicians he is fortunate enough to assemble have offered me, without question, some of the most engaging musical moments I have experienced in the last decade.

And, at the risk of seeming to ignore other moments, there are two dances back to back to I must regard as simply diabolical. The first is terrifying: “When Jesus Wept”, a rather typical Brad Cox haunt comprised of two songs intertwined, threads woven together like the rope that forms the device of “Strange Fruit”, the heart-stopping Billie Holliday tale of torture and lynching.

Brad, as I said, has great musicians in tow. Nathan Granner and Valery Price handle “When Jesus Wept” with heart and soul. When Krystle Warren adds her warm, almost other-worldly voice to Strange Fruit in the midst of it all, and as Jerome Stigler demonstrates suffering and death, I defy any person with eyes and ears to save their own heart from bursting.

“When Jesus Wept” is followed by a solo, Jennifer dancing to another song with gospel roots, The River is Wide, and it seems that the song and dance will act to heal the wound exposed by the trauma preceding it. No such.

The song’s opening affirmation of love winds to its inevitable loss, the song and lights fading as love dies away. No solace here but plenty of truth. If art can rip away the curtains by which the quotidian hides reality, then these two dances are still changing the way I look around me days later.

Btw, to those annoying snobs who somehow believe that I’m speaking from a relative position, that is to say, that I’m saying these musicians are exciting for Kansas City, I’d look forward to a brief conversation about what is good and great around the world. I travel a lot and I see a lot of music and dance. This is the real shit, people.

Count yourselves unlucky to live elsewhere.

May 30, 2005

One of the songs I can’t identify is a beautiful swaying between a simple vocal round and total anarchy. Valerie Price and Brenna Whittaker have utterly satisfying voices, rich in any octave. It’s fantastic and haunting.

One of the last songs of the day is, once again, unknown to me, at least in this form. Valerie continues to emote as the song dies away, Lydia (accordionist) and Brad whispering light chords and just as our collective breath was to be taken away by the silence and then a drumstick scratching across the edge of cymbal (that came next), an ice cream truck drove by.

May 29, 2005

With war as the theme, Brad has a piece partially penned in Mandarin. He translates (and my memory is fuzzy), “The Noble Leader thinks. He continues to think. He is still thinking.” And so on till the end, “The Noble Leader realizes that he can not only have poor people fight the war, he can also make them pay for it.” Snickers all around.

May 28, 2005

Brad Cox is a fantastic pianist and composer who lives at present in Kansas City and we are the richer for it. An afternoon concert for the Memorial Day weekend and Brad has assembled one of his large scale bands, tenor sax, baritone sax, flautist (also piccolo), drummer, stand-up bass, a gifted accordionist who plays with a band here called Tango Lorca, and three singers.

Part of the afternoon is given to re-tooled gospel tunes. As usual with Brad, there are songs I should recognize but can’t. He twists a Zeppelin tune into a signature changing nightmare. Or dream.

Brecht and Weill’s Alabama Song is delightfully recognizable. The three singers trade the verses about; it’s wonderful and silly. Since the theme of the show is war, they do a version of Randy Newman’s Let’s Drop the Big One Now.