Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Why Kathryn's life story and not mine? Well, while there's plenty of inner turgid emotional material to dig into in my life, in outward respects my story is a bit vanilla and drama-less. I'll tell you about it sometime when you need to get to sleep...
Whereas Kathryn's story is overflowing with drama. She had studied since age 5 to sing, dance and perform, arrived in New York at the age of 17, landed a role in a racy nude musical, and moved in with the music director, Ken, a talented guru 15 years older than herself. Their time together started out starry-eyed and lovely, but by the end he had turned psychotic and made her his prisoner. When she escaped, he swore to find her and kill her. She went into the victim witness protection program with a new name, cut off from all her former friends, and had to give up performing or anything else that might attract the attention of the still at-large Ken. Over the years life took on a semblance of normalcy, as she eventually fell in love, married, had children. Her family knew nothing about her former life, and she lived in constant fear that Ken might find her. When Ken died recently, she was finally free to tell her family, her story - but how do you tell your husband and children that you're not who they think you are?
Drama a-plenty, yes?
I met Kathryn years ago in acting class (I knew nothing of her hidden life story), and we became pals and co-wrote and shopped around a marvelous screenplay that bears an uncanny resemblance to the holiday film "Elf". We thought maybe we were ripped off, and attempted to sue the producers of "Elf", New Line Cinema, but their legal team convinced us that they came up with the exact same story by incredible coincidence. So, that's all water under the bridge, we're totally over that... I don't even know why I brought it up :) Now, a few years down the road, we're excited to be working together again. This time, on a story not quite so fanciful or funny, but every bit as amazing.
A thousand thanks to Berkeley Rep for hosting us, for providing so much support (including some very tasty dinners), and for the chance to hang out with so many great playwrights, composers and performers from around the U.S. It has been the highlight of my summer!
Friday, April 27, 2012
Our musical, The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World, has recently been nominated for some shiny awards. The Drama Desk Award (nominations announced this morning), is one of the most prestigious in the Theatre World. It encompasses all of NY theatre - Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway, and even Off-putting Broadway. That's a mighty big pond, and I'm feeling like a mighty proud fish to have been noticed in it. Our show is nominated for Outstanding Lyrics, Outstanding Book of a Musical, and for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical (hooray Sarah Sokolovic!).
But the Drama Desk ain't the only award in town. Another righteously respected award is the Lucille Lortel Award, restricted to the still-rather-impressively-sized pond of Off-Broadway. We have been hooked with a gleaming nomination for Outstanding Musical - Big hugs all around!
The awards ceremonies are coming up in May and June. If we snag one, the caviar is on me. If we don't, we'll still be able to crow about the one that got away. It's all good.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Q came up with the whole shebang. He sings lead and is the lyricist. He composes many of the musical riffs, chooses the guitar tones and effects, and sets the tempo and mood. I play all the instruments (except claves) and come up with extra musical ideas that match his descriptions.
This isn't like anything I've done before. Firstly, Quinn wanted to really rock out (I tend to make music on the gentler side). 2nd, I usually to want to perfect things. Quinn's not like that, he wants to move on. So "Slime" is rough, we work fast (it's usually just one take for each track), but that gives the whole thing a sense of urgency and a true garage feel. 3rdly, as a singer I'm rather tuneful and sweet. Q comes more from the Lou Reed school of getting the words across. The result is the grittiest rock I've ever head from a 9 year old (and his ageless father). This ain't your papa's Donnie Osmond, man.
Check out songs 5, 6 and 7 ("Monster Truck", "Seed" and "Happy Life"). The cool beginning of "Monster Truck", where the music sounds small and tinny and then blossoms into full-on heaviness? The rockin' riff? That's all Quinn. On "Seed", I wrote and played to his specs - he chose the Fender Rhodes sound, and the Stephen Stills tone for the guitar leads. "Happy Life" was a not-quite-ready-for-primetime riff and mood. There was something good in it, but it wasn't working. Q came to it fresh a few days later and heard (and dictated) the verse sections, and built up the swirling noise and synths at the end, and Presto! We had ourselves a powerful bit of pop.
So, download "Slime" now (while it's still free)! Once the free downloads are gone, you'll have the chance to name your own price for this little hunk of rock n' roll history.
(FYI, you don't HAVE to download to enjoy - The Max Invasion "Slime" link allows you to listen to the entire album on any device. Downloading is allowed on all devices except iPhones or iPads (Apple only allows downloads from iTunes on iOS hardware).
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
With the demise of radio as a way to find new music, various hopeful substitutes have come along:
In the 90's there was Hear Music, a store with dozens of listening stations all with soft cushy headphones. It was dreamy, just put on a pair of those headphones and enter a magical world of great music. Everything sounded good on those headphones. And, of course, standing there on a concrete floor you weren't going to listen to a whole album, or give a song 3-4 consecutive listens to see if it held up under scrutiny. You'd listen to maybe 30 seconds, skip ahead and try another 30 seconds here and there, and, lured by that wonderful headphone sound, make a snap judgment to purchase that CD for $16.98. Only upon getting it home and giving it an unhurried listen would you realize that the thing didn't have any musical legs, and that you didn't like Country Music after all (unless it's 30 seconds at at time on headphones). Nope, Hear Music got me to buy a lot of music I never grew to like.
In the past decade, the ability to hear 30 seconds of a tune on iTunes or Amazon or wherever has been a boon, opening my ears to much more music than Hear Music ever could. But those 30 seconds snippets are still misleading. Just about any music can sound good for 30 seconds. But 3-5 minutes is the true test of a song - does it have structure, melody - does it have Legs? Even when iTunes recently upped the snippets to 60 seconds, it's still not enough. I've downloaded a lot of albums that worked great as excerpts, but turn out to have very little substance when played in their entirety.
And there are the services (Flyfi, etc.) that allow you to download individual songs for free, so you can spend time with them. The great songs reveal themselves over repeated listenings, and that's truly fine. But I'm an album guy. And purchasing an entire album based on one good song just doesn't fly. It turns out there are an awful lot of albums that have only 1 or 2 good songs on them.
Which brings me to Spotify. It's fantastic. You can grab whole albums and listen to them. For free. There are commercials every few songs (just like in the golden days of FM radio). So what? Like in the days of great radio, I'm finally getting to spend time with an artists' work and see if it's something I want to spend money on. I hear the songs over and over, and either gain an appreciation for what's there, or move on.
I don't know how the revenue stream will work, but ASCAP, the society I belong to that collects airplay royalties, signed an agreement with Spotify, and they are the ones that sent me the invitation. I'll soon see what the royalties from Spotify are like. Who knows, maybe it'll be better than radio ever was (for me, at least). And meanwhile, I've finally got a way to explore new music that suits me. I'm loving it.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Here's a great little video for those of you who can't make it to NY for the show. Enjoy!
In case you missed it, the NYTimes wrote an article about what we're up to. Read it HERE.
Tickets? The show's at Playwrights Horizons on 42nd st. It's up and running, technically still in previews til June 7, but the show is locked and loaded. (Use this top secret code SHAGFLY when ordering tix for a special discount!)
love and blessings,
Friday, May 20, 2011
We're now in our 2nd week of previews, and the show is coming together nicely. Spectacularly. We spend time every day writing new material to make it better, and the actors rehearse 4 hours every day to incorporate the changes, making a fresh, new experience every night. Last night the show was on fire - and we still have 2 more weeks of previews to make it yet better!
Also, a wonderful writer for the NYTimes wrote an article about what we're up to. Read it HERE.
Tickets? The show's at Playwrights Horizons on 42nd st. Come see the fresh previews now, or see the fully-flowered show during its run from June 7 to July 3. (Use this top secret code SHAGFLY when ordering tix for a special discount!)
I hope I see you at one of the shows!
love and blessings,
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
(The Shaggs open May 12! Click for tix)
The first time I ever touched an electric guitar, I was awestruck. I tried plucking a note, tried to make it sing like the Beatles could, but it did not respond. I was at the house of my friend, Dave Werry. The electric guitar belonged to his mom. It was red, with a sunburst finish, and some kind of a hollow body. I had a slight tinge of disappointment, in that I somehow had the idea that a solid body electric was more modern and cool than a hollow body. But still. I had never been close to any electric guitar before. And even with the minor failing of it being hollowbody, and the fact that I couldn't make it sound like anything, I was totally stoked.
We had gotten his mom's permission to use it in a skit we were preparing for the school talent show. We were in 4th grade. I had memorized every word of the Beatle's 'Help", and had recruited 3 other guys to join me in doing a live version of the song for the talent show. I had a set of sparkly paper drums I'd gotten for Xmas when I was 4, and two black Beatle wigs. Dave had his mom's electric, and we borrowed a couple acoustic guitars. We practiced. We banged and strummed. We knew no notes, we knew no key, we were just singing the words at the top of our lungs and pretending to be the Beatles. On the stage of the cafeteria the day of the show, the only other "band" acts were lip-syncing. We were the real thing, making our own noise, and we were a big hit. 6th graders came up to us afterwards, telling us how cool we were. It was my first taste of the limelight. But it was my last moment with an electric guitar for a long time.
The memory of Dave Werry and his mom's guitar surfaced when I was asked what kind of guitars the girls in the Shaggs would be playing onstage in the upcoming production of "The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World". I'd grown up in a college town, in the suburbs of San Francisco, a fairly cosmopolitan place. Still, I'd never seen an electric guitar except on TV. While I knew there was a music store in town that carried electric guitars, I'd never been inside the store. I didn't think I had the right to open the door and approach an actual guitar. That'd be akin to riding my bike to the Pontiac dealership and asking to test-drive a GTO. If the reality of playing an electric guitar were so distant for a suburban-street-wise kid, how much more exotic might it have been for The Shaggs, who lived in a small town in New Hampshire? Where did their father, who knew nothing about music, find electric guitars? How far did he drive, what kind of store did he find, what was it like for him to talk to a long-haired guitar salesman? And when he brought them home as a surprise gift for his girls (along with a drum set), what was their reaction? Unlike me, they did not have an intense passion about music. They had never expressed any interest in music whatsoever. And if playing en electric guitar eluded a music aficionado like me, how much more hard and mysterious and frustrating would it have been for them?
Years later, when I was 16 and had been playing acoustic guitar for a year (self-taught) I bought a used Fender Mustang and rented a Sears Silvertone amp for 6 months. I still couldn't make it sound like I wanted it to. After 6 months I returned the amp and sold the Mustang. The magic of electric guitars would continue to elude me way into adulthood.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Greetings from NYC,
Tickets are on sale for the upcoming production of The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World at Playwrights Horizons on 42nd st. Come see the smiling infant of a show during previews starting May 12, or see the fully-flowered gawky young adolescent of a show during its run from June 7 to July 3. (Use this top secret code SHAGFLY when ordering tix for a special discount!)
Do you like the graphic they made for us? I dig it deeply. The young hands pulling at the guitar strings, trying to break the guitar or escape or make some kind of sound (or all of the above).
The rehearsals are vibrating with an intensity that makes your head and heart buzz. The cast is thrilling - excellent actors and singers all. I've been spending long long days tightening up the story, the lyrics, the music, the orchestrations, the page turns for the band. I've never worked so long, with such intensity, on any other project in my life. Yeah, I know, that's no guarantee of a great outcome, but I'm telling you - I'm as excited about this project about any other endeavor I've done. It's on a par with The Bobs, or IsoBobs, or Svetlana Village, or...
Well, you get my drift. I hope I see you at one of the previews!
love and blessings,
Thursday, March 24, 2011
I've been meaning to write for the longest time, but I've been consumed with preparations for the Off-Broadway production of “The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World”. There's not only a ton of work to finish writing the play and the orchestrations, but being away from home so much means making sure there are people to fill in my job of stay-at-home-after-school dad. We've got a wonderful cadre of expert caregivers lined up, and my lovely and energetic wife will be doling out extra hugs and love, while I visit my family every evening via Skype. I'm going to miss them something horrible. But I have a feeling I'll be so deeply engrossed in my work in NY that the heartache and homesickness will only creep in at night.
So, have you bought your tickets yet? Previews start May 11 and run to June 6, opening night is June 7 and then it runs to July 3. This is a historic, first-ever co-production of Playwrights Horizons (Sunday in the Park With George, Assassins, Grey Gardens) and The New York Theatre Workshop (ever hear of “Rent”?). The cast is, whoa, so totally loaded with amazing talent. Tony Award nominee and Obie Award winner Peter Friedman (Ragtime and PH's Circle Mirror Transformation, After the Revolution and The Heidi Chronicles). Kevin Cahoon's credits include Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Roundabout's The Foreigner (for which he was Lortel Award-nominated). Annie Golden was featured in PH's Assassins and People Be Heard, and in Broadway's Xanadu and The Full Monty; she was Jeannie in the film "Hair." Steve Routman's resume includes Broadway's Broadway and Off-Broadway's The Fantasticks and Shmulnik's Waltz. The three Wiggin sisters are played by amazing young actresses - Jamey Hood, Sarah Sokolovic, and Emily Walton. And as Kyle, young up-and-comer Cory Michael Smith makes his PH debut.
And the band? Whoa, again - Aaron Gandy is playing piano, organ and Music Directing, Leroy Bach (Wilco, Beth Orton) will play guitars and small keyboards, Dave Hilliard (David Byrne, Dan Zanes) bangs drums, and, on bass, the fabulous Toobee Determined.
Hey, I don't blow smoke about the things I do. I mean, yeah, I talk things up and try to keep you all interested, but when I tell you I'm proud of something I'm doing, it's because I really think it's good. Of all the things I do and have done, this play is very close to my heart. It's powerful, it's deep, it's funny, it's sad. It rings bells that I didn't know could be rung. I am awestruck at how moving this has turned out to be. I was/am lifted by it all.
If you're near NY, you owe it to yourself to come see it. If you're thinking about coming from out of town, now's the time to buy a train or plane ticket and dig around for digs. And, while I may be insanely busy re-writing the overture or changing the keys of all the songs, chances are I'll be around, so don't fail to try and get in touch while you're in town.
Oh, and if you're around NY on April 17 and 18, come to the Guggenheim Museum, where I'll be on display along with my co-creators, being interviewed and offering bits and pieces of the musical performed by our cast. 7:30 pm.
Love and blessings to you all,
Monday, December 13, 2010
A gift of music can be, for some of us, one of the best things to receive. An aunt of mine, who knew a lot about rock music, once gave me 3 LP's for Christmas. Music I never would have thought to buy, but that opened me to entirely new musical worlds. One of my favorite presents of all time!
So I'm sharing with you some of my favorite recordings that I've come across this year. Treat yourself or, if a recording seems right for someone you know, give them a treat.
Tatiana Nikolaeva Shostakovich: 24 Preludes & Fugues. This was a gift this year from a former college roommate and fellow music student of yore. I have never enjoyed Shostakovich - his music is too dense, thick and forbidding somehow. But these? Oh my god, they are lyrical, witty, full of a direct and simple beauty. I may end up searching out some more Shostakovich this coming year...
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs. I came to this unwillingly. Their earlier work was just not to my taste - too sweeping and needlessly grand. They can still tend to that, but this work is much more modulated. And they hit a lovely, vibrant lyric nerve in their exploration of the suburbs. For anyone who ever grew up in the suburbs, this just might speak to you. It did me.
The Band - The Band. "Music from Big Pink" was a tremendous and lovely album. The next record I bought of theirs way back when was "Stage Fright". It was a huge disappointment. So I gave up on exploring their music more, and missed out on this other masterpiece. I happened on it this year when I remembered an LP I'd loved back in high school, "Journey" by John Simon. It faded into obscurity, but I've always remembered itl. The guy could hardly sing in tune, his piano playing is a bit ragged, but he writes marvelous melodies and fantastic arrangements. His lack of perfection and chops gave me the courage to follow my dreams of being a musician, all my imperfections notwithstanding. So, wondering what became of him, I looked him up. Turns out he produced "Music from Big Pink" and "The Band". Well. I gave "The Band" a try this year, and it's great. His own music is still great (you can find it on the web, he put out 2 albums) and he produced 2 fantastic albums for the Band. For real.
Isabelle Faust - Bach: Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin. I have other recordings of solo Bach violin music. It's all very well done, but not LOVELY. This, my friends, is LOVELY. She makes her violin sound so sweet, she takes such time with every line of notes. I just love it.
Alexandre Tharaud - Rameau: "Nouvelles Suites". Baroque music on the piano is something I love. Here is some non-Bach that is very very beautiful, and exquisitely interpreted. Included is Ravel's " Hommage À Rameau [Images, Premier Livre, 1905]". If you like piano music, this is a great one.
Big Star - #1 Record/Radio City. This recording is legendary as being the unluckiest record of all time. Or something like that. Made in the early 70's, the record label just chucked in the wastebasket somehow, and it was forgotten. But it's legend bubbled on over the years, and with the death of one of its masterminds, Alex Chilton, this past year, and with the advent of easy and cheap distribution via the internet, it seems to have finally made its way into the world. If you're one of those people who dream that someone will uncover a hitherto unknown recording by The Beatles or some other majorly classic group, this is for you. It is a true classic. Song after song is fantastic.
Galactic - Ya-Ka-May. I got it for me, but my 8 year old son latched onto it and played it nonstop for months. And I never got tired of it. A way cool blend of hip hop w/New Orleans beats and horns. The drummer is other-worldly, the best groove ever. And the songs are all catchy and well-written and stand the test of time. Note: There are couple songs with naughty words, so if you're child wants to listen, you might want to edit :)
Monday, October 25, 2010
In most of the categories, it's a simple matter of popularity. Whoever is the most famous gets the most votes and gets nominated. But in a few categories, such as composing and arranging, the nominations are made by committees who actually listen to each of the entries. That's how the arrangement of "Helter Skelter" by Richard Greene and Yours Truly snagged a nomination. Groups of dedicated and knowledgeable Academy members across the country listen through hundreds of potential nominees, and present their chosen nominations. The Bobs were not a household name, but enough of a name to get a fair hearing - and a Grammy Nomination!
I'm too busy with fatherhood just now to serve on a listening committee, but back in the late 80's I did for a few years, and it was pure pleasure for a listening hound like myself. Not since high school had I had the chance to sit around with others who love music to just listen. Through STACKS of records .For hours and hours. And it was so exciting to hear, and honor with a vote, some little-known composer or arranger whose work, while not famed, shone with inspiration and originality.
Meanwhile, I'm having my own private listening party, checking out all the CDs that are flooding in, finding some nice gems, and happily casting my vote for the good stuff.
Friday, September 17, 2010
I called the director, who likewise seemed to have no problem with my lack of experience. So I gathered together a ragtag yet spirited band who taught me how to write for their respective instruments, and a choir of 12 or so. I really had no idea what I was doing. But the play was a huge hit. Shortly after, RG Davis, founder of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, opened a new theatre company, Epic West, the Centre for the Study of Bertolt Brecht. He asked me to be the music director. Big names from East Germany came to collaborate and teach, the productions had lots of great Bay Area actors in the casts, and while I was excited to be in the middle of it, my understanding of it all was pretty limited. (It was amusing to have my parents, longtime conservatives, come to the productions which were noisily marxist and densely intellectual. My parents were wonderfully supportive - My mother found and gave me a rare LP of Lotte Lenya singing)
I began to get work with other theatre companies, but my reputation as a Brechtian expert had been solidified, and I kept getting approached to do Brecht and political theatre. Ina Wittich, a famous (in East Germany) East German interpreter of Brechtian songs, came to California for a tour and needed an accompanist. Eisler songs are technically easy, almost like rock or folk music. Ina croaked them in a Lotte Lenya kind of way. But, for her big concert at Mandeville Hall in UC San Diego, she wanted me to play Eisler's Sonata for Piano. I'm not a fast learner, and his sonata is technically difficult, atonal, and huge. And I only had 10 days to master it. I begged her to let me off the hook, but, and perhaps this was the East German in her, she would not change her mind. Onstage that night, in front of 1,000 or so people, I flailed my way through it, just making up whole sections of atonality when the notes on the page blurred before my eyes. Afterwards, at the wine & cheese function, a UC music professor buttonholed me. He wanted to talk to me about my playing of Eisler's Sonata. The cheese in my mouth went dry. He said "That was the most brilliant interpretation I've heard. It sounded so fresh, so new!" Well, yeah, half that music had never been played before, by me or anyone else.
Is there Brecht/Eisler/Weill in the music I write? I don't claim them as major influences, but years of study and immersion must have left some traces. My predilection for simplicity and directness is something I tend to attribute to my rock and roll roots, but it's a strong element in both Eisler's and Weill's music, and in Brecht's lyrics and drama. Maybe it's a combo of both Marx and Lennon - Yar yar yar.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
What do I know of Edward Albee? Well, I knew he was famous as the writer of the huge hit film "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", but I was too young to see it (or understand it) when it came out in 1966. Ten years later, when I landed the job of music director for the unapologetically political "Epic West" (The Center for the Study of Bertolt Brecht), Edward Albee's name was often spat with contempt by the people in charge there. Heck, I was young and excited to be in this radical marxist environment (I'd grown up in a Goldwater/John Wayne household), but I didn't quite understand all the fine political distinctions being made. I didn't really understand Brecht. And I'd never even read Albee, so I always wondered what he'd done to get under their skin so much.
Ever since, whenever I hear Albee's name, I'm brought back to that time in my early 20's when I was trying to make sense of the world of Epic West. Their disdain of Albee was pretty silly - their strict Brechtian dogma did not result in very good theater after all (I could show you the reviews...). And the bits of Albee I've read in acting classes in the years since? I rather like them.
I've worked with the Brechtians. It was an interesting introduction to theater. Now it's time to chat with Mr. Albee.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
So this summer I hired a promoter who has an actual physical address (note: don't trust P.O. Boxes in the Cayman Islands), and I've sent out another few hundred CDs. This time the results are stunning. Stations around the world are playing it and loving it, and it zoomed to #4 on the New Age charts for the month of July!
In celebration, I'm having a sale calculated to get "Two Hands" into the ears, the minds, and yay, the very playlists of every man and woman who reads these words.
From now to the end of September, you can either download or get the CD version of "Two Hands" for a mere $8. Click Here for downloads, or Here for CDs. It's that simple.
Those of you who have already demonstrated your love of and belief in this beautiful music - I thank you. And I ask, nay, I exhort you to tell all your friends, acquaintances and yes, even your enemies about this music. You'll glow in the feeling that comes from sharing something good.
May autumn leaves pour gold upon you - Gunnar
Monday, June 28, 2010
...On Off-Broadway! It's official, the musical based on the life story of The Shaggs, "The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World", created by Joy Gregory, John Langs and Yours Truly, is headed for a major production that is at the pinnacle of Off-Broadway on fabled 42nd street - at Playwrights' Horizons, the people who brought you "Grey Gardens", "Floyd Collins", and Stephen Sondheim's "Assassins", and" Sunday in the Park with George". Co-producing with them for the first time is the esteemed New York Theatre Workshop, whose productions include "Rent" and "Bright Lights, Big City".
Hoo-boy, I can't wait to invite my mama to this show! But first, I have to finish writing it. Yes, I know, we've been working on it for 9 years, you'd think it would be finished by now, but I'm born to tinker, and there's just a few things that need fixing here and there. It's great, it's good to go, but if I gotta rent a tux to go to the opening night, I want to make sure everything in the show is polished to perfection. As I last wrote to you about this, we were just about to do a reading at Playwrights' Horizons in December. That reading went very well, and showed us places that needed work. We worked those places, and had another fine reading in April, where we found a few more things to work on, and also got a fire lit under a bunch of producers. After a couple months of shaking things out, New York Theatre Workshop came on board to co-produce, and now we're on track to a full production this coming spring.
You can read all about it in the New York Times, or the New York Post, or Playbill, or...
The rumors are all true.