Thursday, January 21, 2010

How Not to Write an Operetta: Being an Indictment Against Neil Gaiman's Cousin

Preamble: I had planned my next entry to be about living in the FUTURE and my many GRIEVANCES owing to the fact that I do not yet have a flying car nor a silver space suit. Yet, friends, I found something even more magical and possibly hilarious to discuss with you today.
Rarely does one have to consider if spending no money to attend a concert is a sound investment. Provided that the musicians at least give it a good college try, one really cannot walk away from the situation saying they had been slighted in any real way. If the performance be miserable, what has the person lost but a few hours time and learned a valuable lesson: don't see that awful ensemble ever again. Needless to say, dear reader, myself and sundry compatriots learned a VALUABLE LESSON on January 17 of the FUTURISTIC YEAR OF 2010!
January 2010. Everyone has welcomed the New Year - I by screaming Auld Lang Syne from the rooftop of one of the less - ahem - friendly neighborhoods of Brooklyn. A few days later, Empress Maria (TITLE BESTOWED BY ME ON THE GOOD FAITH OF NATURE AND OF NATURE'S GOD) and I received an email from our dear friend Sonja telling us that the Knickerbocker Orchestra was hosting a night of free music, the highlight of which would be Neil Gaiman, the celebrated author of a few of my favorite books including Coraline, narrating Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. Maria harbors no pretensions about her love for this piece, and immediately booked us to attend. I was more excited to see Neil Gaiman in person, if only for the chance to bestow upon him the MAYORAL MEDAL of EXCELLENCE for his creation of Neverwhere and his patronage which allowed Susanna Clarke to write Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. With anticipation written in our hearts, we set out on the 17th to the production.
The World Financial Center, with its marble floors framing several live palm trees whose sole source of photosynthetic sunlight is an architecturally stunning glass roof, a decadent palace dedicated to the GLORIOUS credo of our Great Nation: "America: Fuck yeah!" This was the chosen scene. Upon looking at the handbill, we should have sensed that something rotten was in the State of New York - or should I say NEW AMSTERDAM? (This is an example of foreshadowing.)
The production began with the introduction of Gary S. Fagin, the fabled conductor of such masterworks as John Adams in Amsterdam: A Song for Abigail and The Space, whose haunting and eloquent melodies have no doubt washed upon the porches of only the Noblest ears of the Crowned Heads of Europe - or some such shit. I urge visiting his website and listening to the clip of John Adams.
The production began with something by Peter Tchaikovsky. At this point signal flares should have gone off, gongs should have sounded, and messenger ships released from their ports. I here avow that I ABHOR ALL WORKS OF TCHAIKOVSKY, owing to my attendance of his opera Mazeppa at the Metropolitan Opera. Approximately 4 hours into my attempt to pay attention to this affront to good taste, the 3rd act of 5 ended with a girl running around with a severed head in her hands - AND THE SWEDES DIDN'T EVEN HAVE THE COMMON COURTESY TO COME IN AN KILL THEM ALL YET! This was no way to begin a production. I should have gathered my belongings and slapped Gary Fagin on his talentless face on my way out. BUT I RESTRAINED MYSELF.
Next came Up and Down by Duke Ellington. Gary Fagin was so pretentious that he listed Ellington's full name on the handbill, with the more famous "Duke" in parentheses. Really Gary Fagin? And how was it? ...I was not amused. Jazz conducted by a pasty white man just doesn't work - except when the pasty white man is LEONARD BERNSTEIN, and I here provide evidence!
Finally! The moment we had all been waiting for! The reason that there were so many strollers and young couples and nerds hipsterly playing Tetris on their fossilized GameBoy Pockets. Gary Fagin introduced Neil Gaiman - HIS COUSIN!
AHA! ...A-HA!
So, Gary Fagin, you thought you were so clever. I pictured a caped Gary Fagin sitting in his subterranean reinforced concrete writers garret, a crown of wild, tousled hair, madly banging away at a pipe organ, screaming: "How can I lure people to my atrocious work. I know! I will bait them with my famous cousin. OH HO HO HO!"
And what can be said of what happened. It was clear that Neil Gaiman hadn't slept since 1998 and wasn't given sufficient time to practice - or simply didn't FEEL like practicing. I certainly have cousins I wouldn't go out of my way to send a Christmas card, much less offer my vastly superior talent to support their orchestra. Yeah. I said it. In a nutshell... it was pleasant.
The Unanswered Question by Cha - oh who give a shit! The highlight of this atrocity was Gary Fagin pretentiously summoning a less-than-stellar trumpet to play some hackneyed modernist something-or-other. At this point I was getting glares from a painfully sex-starved woman in front of me who thought she was in the presences of brilliance (barring my own brilliance, naturally). Verdict: I've heard sweeter songs from teething children on airplanes.
And finally - the CROWN JEWEL of this catastrophe of the musical world - the very reason Gary Fagin summoned his famous cousin to take and hour out of his busy schedule on his way to the Golden Globes in support of Coraline. It was a special night. This marked the WORLD PREMIERE of Gary S. Fagin's:
I here recommend taking painkillers or getting yourself a good stiff spiritous drink.
Gary Fagin introduced his tenor soloist for the WORLD PREMIERE of this opera based on the travels of Henry Hudson in North America. A baton raised. A pair of lungs filled with air. And then...
This skinny ginger tenor decided to emulate Colm Wilkinson (you know, the original Jean Valjean), right down to the badly trimmed beard. For those unfamiliar with Colmish, I will translate:
It may be easier for you to imagine Sean Connery singing it.
Apparently it's Gary Fagin's modus operandi to begin every song he writes by repeating a word three times. As proof, here is the opening of John Adams' libretto:
The song continued, listing all the precious things European sailors sought getting faster via a mythical Northwest Passage.
Gary Fagin! Cellos in the background and shouting the names of things does not an operetta make! He went on to sing to us the exploits of Magellan:
"Sail west to reach the East.
Columbus tried.
Magellan's men proved it so.
West, then south, and further south,
Round the treacherous Cape,
Through the Pacific's calm seas."
Hold on a second. Magellan began his voyage from Portugal. If you were granted a caravel from the Royal Family and proceeded to sail west only to turn south and then... go south again, I'm relatively sure that you would run right into Antarctica. Let's ask the Panel of Experts. Panel of Experts?
The cliché parade didn't stop! Each movement was separated by a small introduction... YEAH, like little title cards in a Stanley Kubrick film!
"Year 1609; the thirtieth of May. Henry Hudson, commanding the Half Moon, sails once more into the unknown."
Gary Fagin! You could've said May 30th, 1609!
PART II: TERRA CONTINENS (He added a footnote saying that this means "continent." Do you think Neil Gaiman would put such a footnote in his books? Hm...)
In which he describes the American continent!
"A deep, wide River [unnecessary capitalization - this isn't Germany Gary Fagin!]
Teeming with life:
Foot-wide oysters,
Ten-pound lobsters,
Salmon beyond number,
Magnificent abundance!"
A foot-wide oyster? I will dismiss this and assume you meant foot-long oysters, only to counter that with a reading from Mark Kurlansky's The Big Oyster: "On the bottom [of the riverbed] the very largest ones, described as 'giant oysters,' measure eight to ten inches. This suggests that the Dutch reports of foot-long oysters were ... slightly exaggerated." Also, the optimal size of a lobster for eating is between 1 and 2 pounds. Anything larger is too tough and requires too much dipping butter. Also - LOBSTERS DON'T LIVE IN FRESHWATER! OUTRAGEOUS!
Here Gary Fagin steals lyrics directly from the diary of First Mate Robert Jouet talking about trade with the local Indians. While I'm not sure where they got "Greene [sic] Tabaccco [sic]," it's still slightly cheap to use someone else's words for an entire half of a movement of your operetta.
Setting the tone for the Age of Colonial Expoloration (which, coincidentally, I hate teaching) he mentions a Native stealing a pillow and two shirts from the Half Moon only to be killed, offering this final thought: "O, harbinger of what's to come: / Temptation, Mistrust, Death." Let's move on. And get ready to be angry.
He chooses fascinating words to begin a conclusion:
"Three times Henry Hudson fails
To find the Northwest Passage.
The fourth attempt,
Abandoned in the Bay that bears his name,
He dies."
Gary Fagin... you just wrote an entire hour-long operetta about a failed explorer. Let's see what Henry Hudson actually did to warrant a river, a bay, a parkway and an operetta:
1.) Did not find the Northwest Passage
2.) Left adrift in a large Canadian bay by his crew
3.) That's... about... it.
And that's what history is - senselessly naming things after people who don't deserve it. Triborough Bridge? Why don't we call it The Robert F. Kennedy Bridge after senator who was 11-years old when the bridge opened. YEAH, that's the ticket! At least we can legitimize charging the taxpayers millions of dollars to change all the signage.
Then Gary Fagin lost me forever. I'm going to put dates next to the approximate times when these things happen. Ready?
"Forty years more,
As a spoil of war, [RHYME?! NOW?!]
New Amsterdam becomes New York [1674].
Towers rise, scrape the skies. [ca. 1902 - 1913]
One day two fall. [ca. September 11, 2001]"
Are you kidding me? Did Rudy Giuliani have a hand in writing this?! At this point a Good Taste Referee should have thrown a flag and called an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty. You wrote a painfully long piece of shit about Henry Hudson and then have the audacity to connect it to September 11?! Were you trying to draw a parallel between Hudson's downfall and that unforgettable September collapse of the World Trade Center, because I FAIL to see and refuse to acknowledge so shameful a connection. Not only that you skipped nearly 330 years of New York history to mention it! Nowhere is there mention of the Battle of New York, the Stock Market Crash, the invention of the Martini... NO! New York's history boils down to Henry Hudson and 9/11. Pitiful! Tasteless!
Now, you can't imagine how angry I was at this point. So angry that I had to laugh and bite my handbill, much to the dismay of the aforementioned sex-starved cobra who shot me icy looks - apparently oblivious to the fact that she had been subjected to one of the cheapest shots in history - a hack relying on the fame of his brilliant cousin to spoon feed bullshit to the brain-dead masses!
And that is why I need to be a teacher - if only to undo the watery history presented by uncultured no-talent idiots with no musical or lyrical inclinations whatsoever.
We then went to the Patriot Saloon to drown our sorrows - or rather explosions of gut-bursting laughter - in cheap beer, country-western music, and ladies dancing on a bar. Because even a dingy gin-joint like The Patriot is a more authentic American experience than being force-fed falsities and cheap, meaningless references to one of our greatest tragedies.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wherein I Recall Some More Memorable Dreams...

While on a recent ski (or in my case après-ski) trip to an area of New York designated on most modern maps as HERE BE DRAGONS, a conversation arose discussing dreams. The reader is no doubt familiar with my horrific, nightmarish, violent and hilarious dreams as he or she or it has already read my wonderfully written prophesy of what the New York Mets will wear in the FUTURE. How strange do these dreams get?
First of all, one of my recurring dreams is of an enormous theme park as large as Disney World and as twisted as Pierre Trudeau's wife (I will here give you time to check Wikipedia). In one dream, myself and a few companions were riding a roller coaster cum haunted mansion house in an enormous tree-filled atrium that reminded me of the common area of Hershey's Chocolate World in Pennsylvania. The ride sped violently and ultimately fell apart. When I revisited the theme park in a future dream, the atrium was closed down - cut off with yellow caution tape. Who preserves dreams in dreams, I ask you!
One of the more terrifying dreams I've ever had saw me inheriting a very large, modern looking house. It was of beautiful American architecture that I attribute to Wright in style, but this is only to someone who is uneducated in the various schools of architecture. Every room in the house had the shades have drawn down giving an air of almost constant twilight - neither night nor day. I was sitting down in the living room of this house that had been bequeathed to me by some fictitious relative until I became aware of someone breathing heavily in the dining room which was a small flight of stairs away. I looked up and saw a shadowy figure with unkempt hair - definitely a women. I was horrified. I suddenly became aware that the house was haunted. Imagine the deepened horror when I realized that I was in love with this phantasm that was haunting me. Terror and love staring at me - and suddenly rushing towards me, pinning me to the couch. I struggled away and began shouting for my grandmother, suddenly realizing this was a nightmare and that I needed to be woken up. I kept screaming - or trying to scream for her. When I finally forced myself awake and away from this terror, it took several minutes to calm my heartbeat and fall back asleep. The next morning:
Grandma: Were you screamin' for me last night mistuh? (She has a Brooklyn accent tempered by several decades of cigarette smoking.)
I: YES! Why didn't you come in and wake me up?!
Grandma: I dunno. I thawt you wuh dreamin'.
Let that be a lesson to you all - if you hear people screaming your name in agony in the night, you should immediately assume they are dreaming AND TAKE NO FURTHER ACTION!
Still, this dream takes a backseat to one of my favorite dreams that I woke up to and wrote down forthwith. I here recall it for the sake of those that wished to hear it told!
It somehow began with me in a Louisiana bayou. I had just emerged from a boat onto a gigantic plantation with torches lighting either side of the landfall. I could already recall in the dream that I had spoken with someone who warned me about the house and the voodoo magic that seethed from its ancient walls. It was supposedly owned by one of the most powerful voodoo mamas in all of the United States. The property was absolutely filled with cats, all of whom were supposedly spies who acted as her all seeing eyes. You could recognize which ones were under her spell because of the purplish glow of their eyes.
As I was approaching the decaying Spanish-moss covered house, I noticed a black cat sitting on the front porch with the most beautiful green eyes you could imagine. I realized that this cat had not yet fallen under an evil spell, so I resolved to rescue it before the Mama could curse it.
For some reason, as I was walking through some knee-length reeds figuring out what to do, I'd decided that [NAME WITHHELD]'s mother was the best person to speak to on the issue of this cat. As I was walking, the landscape changed to one of those fire lanes. You know, one of those perfect lines of grass cut into forests that have electrical lines running across them. You can see them carved on the sides of mountains for miles. I steadily marched up the hill, until I came to [NAME WITHHELD]'s mom's house.
When I got to the door, she recognized the cat as one who had been in the presence of the voodoo Mama, but told me I shouldn't have taken the cat away - that she would know of my theft and start seeking me. The best thing to do, she said, was to return the cat and actually challenge the Mama to free everyone of the curse she'd laid on them.
I'd decided to take the subway back to the bayou. It was an elevated train that went through a tremendous city that I almost cannot describe. The buildings had a golden glow, like how light shines off the Brooklyn Bridge in the morning. The city was certainly something of a ultramodern Brooklyn, filled with a mix of gothic and art deco architecture, stained glass adoring the more stately windows of the most beautiful buildings.
I noticed that the four people with me on the train seemed somewhat uncomfortable and strangely dressed - as if they were trying to dress like that. I asked them what was up.
They informed me that they were all superheroes. One was a tremendously strong partially mechanical black dude. Another was your typical Superman ripoff. Another was a woman who could fly and throw fireballs. The other one just wore a black coat, black hat, and black sunglasses - don't really know what his power was. They told me there had recently been a schism in the city, and that at least half the superheroes in the city had decided to become archvillains. Just as soon as he had told me this, the subway was under attack from a whole host of super-baddies! The subway crashed into the side of a building, and the superheroes told me to run for it and return the cat to the bayou. Amids lasers and fireballs and green energy bolts, I ran for the water until it calmed down and twilight began to fall and I reached the bayou once more. I placed the cat down, and he scurried off.
I went up the beautifully carved, crackly whitewashed door and pushed it open. What was inside obeyed no laws of physics. I could hear the Mama's voice telling me she was on the roof. The entire house was a chaotic labyrinth that would even make M.C. Escher drop his jaw and begin weeping. It was breezy and the world was falling apart, but I bolted for the attic, knowing that was the source of her misguided religious powers. I climbed up a stack of boxes and reached for the attic ladder --
And then I woke up laughing.
And that is ALL that can be said of that.
In other news, I am considering brewing my own sake under the brand name: Uncle Willie's Good Times Sake - the perfect compliment to Uncle Willie's Good Times Fried Chicken.
Until I am bored again...