It should be noted that I am struggling to write this weekend. I am having problems accessing the creative crevasses, the places where my words come together in what I hope is a decidedly careful way. The country club down the street has a skeet shooting range that was grandfathered in (or out of?) current noise pollution laws. From November through March, every weekend and some holidays (Merry Christmas!) from 10am until sunset, there are guns firing. Sometimes intermittently, sometimes regularly. Always distressing. Despite the many wonderful things about my town, had I known, I would have never opted to live here. For five months a year, my weekends and holidays are terribly stressful and ultimately, there is nothing I can do about it other than complain. I feel impotent and terribly agitated by the noise committed by a wealthy few who wish to blow apart chunks of clay when the weather is anything other than dreadful. I do not get to enjoy my own home for up to 14 hours every weekend.
Thank you for understanding and I hope someone out there understands how this noise can be devastating to either quiet family time, quality creative time, or a good nap.
The brilliant and self-aware Weird Al has a theory that everyone’s favorite album of his is the one they first heard when they were thirteen.
Also, and I am not ashamed to say this, he’s pretty cute in his Saga Begins video.
Like many adults
eternally stuck in nerdy adolescence who fancy themselves funny, I began an audio love affair with W.A.Y. before I hit puberty. He seemed joyful and silly, and, as time attests, his keen writing skills can slice and dice better than any Popeil product.
Yesterday, I Alice-in-Wonderlanded myself through some of my own early artistic influences. It’s not a Best-Of list, nor a Most Influential list. It’s me briskly walking a rope path hand-over-hand through a mental arts catalogue.
It started with this video.
I love the Monkees, especially their later works. I love a cappella of all types. This was a union most glorious on a dreary December day as I wrote and knit and avoided obligation. I find the debate about whether they are pre-fab is irrelevant for me. They were four men with backgrounds in both music and performance, with varying degrees of experience in both. While I spend many years favoring the goofy ease of Micky Dolenz, I now feel more of an affinity for Mike Nesmith. Maybe it’s the affect that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly, maybe it’s the martini-dry humor, maybe it’s the hat. The show was subversive, the music a reflection of the transition from mid 60s to early 70s. I can’t tell you whether I prefer their music or their antics on screen. Both delight for different reasons. If you’re in for a weird few hours, I recommend watching this. For pure nostalgia, get a box set of videos or music.
I purchased Free to Be You and Me for my kids to listen to last year. It’s certainly not subtle, but I love it so. I dare you not to smile during the title track.
I used to sing this song when my kids were down…and still do sometimes. This exchange between Mel Brooks and Marlo Thomas still makes me laugh, and who doesn’t try to out-Channing Carol when she’s waxing brilliant about housework?
Alan Alda, of M*A*S*H* fame, is on the album as well. When I was in college, M*A*S*H* was my favorite show and was on no fewer than four times a day locally. I resolved to watch the entire series in order, start to finish. And I did. That was probably my biggest accomplishment in college. That and getting drunk after two shots of Jagermeister. Good times.
In between episodes of M*A*S*H* and occasionally going to class, I went to music rehearsals. Despite my music background, the only singing I did in college was small group a cappella, mostly because I did not like the way the college choir director humiliated people who sang something incorrectly in rehearsal. I loved the college a cappella scene long before it got as polished as it did. I think that vocal percussion really revolutionized the genre. However, we were old school, but we did put out a CD. We were corny but good. I’m going to see if I can figure out how to post some of the album online, but I should probably get permission first.)
It was through these wonderful people I sang with that I found The Bobs, who have since been my favorite group. Silly, clever, brilliant writing, astounding harmonies, and, beneath the sarcasm, tremendous good nature. Richard “Bob” Greene is the standard by which I measure all basses. Start with their self-titled album and work your way through the catalogue. Feel free to detour and listen to their holiday album, worth the price of admission for this Hanukkah song and this ode to festive decor.
I wore a hole through the ISOBobs Lonesome Pine Special, which I just found has finally been released on DVD. I love the effort and the stretch.
One of the songs audiences loved our a cappella group to perform was the Masochism Tango by Tom Lehrer, who also wrote a lot of the songs for The Electric Company. Zany, silly, clever. The tunes zipped while the words would slice and dice in levels appreciated by children and their parents. Some of Lehrer’s work is dated, of course, but the genius is there.
I fell in love with group singing high school, although our music tended more to the sacred, the traditional, and the occasional Andrews Sisters stuff. We were a bit too buttoned up to swing well, but we tried. Music rehearsals and concerts were the highlight of my otherwise heinous romp through puberty. My high school boasted (and still does) a sophisticated and challenging arts program. My first year there, they put on some selections from Woody Allen’s Without Feathers. So enamored was I with the brilliance and style that I bought the book and have reread it and Allen’s other works since. I branched out to Steve Martin’s written work as well, which is similarly unconstrained by genre or category. If it’s funny, it’s in. Essay, script, poem, story.
And there were the usual suspects as well. Mel Brooks. Madeline Kahn. Monty Python (yes, I was that insufferable classmate longing for a partner with whom to sling Monty Python quotes and scenes.) Elaine May and Mike Nichols.
Second City. I’ve spoken of it here before. I spoke of it aloud for the first time during my sophomore year of high school, surprising myself when I said I wanted to go to Northwestern or University of Chicago then joining the the Second City cast (because I was young and full of confidence). And seventeen years after I arrived for my first day of college orientation, I took a class. I don’t see myself ever joining the cast, it’s not the job or process I thought it was (and quite frankly, I really would only want to work with Ron West at this point), but it informed my writing and sense of self more than anything. Improvisation wasn’t just humor (and you’ll often hear at Second City that it’s not that at all, for various and good reasons) it was bravery and truth and listening. And other things.
And here I am, writing. Being wacky, informed by the Nesmiths and Dolenzes and Allens and Lehrers and Easy Readers and Carol Burnetts and Mays and Woods and Pythons and the Bobs they refuse to be any one thing.
That’s the kind of art I want.
So tomorrow, when the guns down the street are silenced for a few days, maybe a script or a song or an essay or a joke.
All the choices.