Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dropping keys

So when I’m not performing, I ruin people’s lives for money. That’s right. I stand in front of a room of 30 or so earnest adults and encourage them to do what they love to do. I’ll stop at nothing. I’ll pull out the Hafiz poems, get them to lift their arms triumphantly when they make a mistake while the rest of the class cheers them and assign homework making them do something they’ve never done before. I try to make them see the world the way an artist does. What kind of person does that to other people?

Don’t get me wrong. This is not a protest song or a self-congratulatory art-vs – entertainment treatise. I love art AND entertainment and depending on the city I’m in, I’m accused of being one or the other. I like lots of “mainstream” music and theater, and almost exclusively I gravitate towards mainstream dance and art to the point of embarrassing some friends. Not dogs playing poker stuff but close.

But I admire all artists. I admire the ones who have figured out a way to earn a living even if it isn’t their favorite music/art/film etc and I admire those who cheerfully toil away in undeserved obscurity. No matter which way you do it, you are guaranteed more you’re your daily dosage of disappointment and heartache. There’s a Quixotic quality to the whole endeavor which reminds me of a little squeaky voiced boy in full headgear making the long, long walk across the dance floor to ask the Senior with an “ie” at the end of her name to dance when he knows damn well she’ll turn him down. A tragic and farcical nobility.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about people who make stuff up for a living….good stuff.

My agent just did a showcase with some of her clients in New York City- including me. The agent, in question, Jeannine Frank, is this dynamo who apparently doesn’t need but a few hours sleep and the occasional sandwich and of course Peets Coffee. I’m in awe of her energy. She also has great taste in artists and great courage with respect to whom she chooses to book. Put it this way, I know I’m not making her rich. The show Jeannine put together was the Ring Cycle of Funny. It was like eating a whole pie by yourself. It was almost too much of a good thing and as with eating an entire pie, I experienced a little pain at the end of it all because well - many of you have not heard of any of my agent’s artists and yet they were better than anything I’ve seen this year. Period. Wait a minute – it’s only January. I meant this past year. 2006. Except I’ve seen some of them and they are just as good as themselves. There. Now that that’s cleared up - back to the show.

There was photo-humorist Flash Rosenberg who can make the periodic table entertaining, and the brilliant Jay Leonhart singing witty urbane songs about being a bass player on the road and accompanying himself so completely I never once thought “when’s the chord player coming in?” I love Ann Randolph whose rubbery face attracted the attention of Mel Brooks, ( a man who knows funny), but not (yet) the nation and a host of other supreme talents that you should have heard of but haven’t. Plus they were all nice and genuine human beings.

Then there was the work of the singing superheroes Roy Zimmerman and The Prince Myshkins (that’s two separate groups, by the way – Roy is not a front man for a group inspired by Dostoevsky).

Roy is a modern day Tom Lehrer who serves up a meticulously sliced Bush Administration to us on a polished platter. He’s deft and witty and insightful and underneath the humor is the outrage that only a person with a great big heart can feel. Like all my favorite satirists, he is deeply in touch with his and our humanity. When he sings songs like “Abstain with me Baby” he gets under the skin of a horny teenaged boy in a way that is both painful and uproariously funny and “America” and “My TV” bring tears to my eyes because this is a man who loves his country unlike the dumb fucks he pillories.

I’m hard pressed to try to define The Prince Myshkins without slipping into cute similes. They have all kinds of press quotes, which would make one think “Well, I don’t know what the hell that means but I’ll bite. Let’s check ‘em out.”

I tried to explain a couple of their songs (which haven’t yet been recorded – how ‘bout that guys?) to people I know and I got blank stares, but when I played them “The List” a cheerful ditty about censorship and the nascent neo-McCarthy movement, they got it and when I asked my friend in Staten Island if I could borrow her nail clippers she launched into their wonderful song of the same name.

I think the best I can come up with to describe this and others of their songs is: If Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht were born in the Midwest just after Watergate ,,,and if Brecht had occasionally lightened up and smoked a bowl…and if Weill played the accordion……never mind. I can’t do it. I can’t sell you on any of Jeannine Frank’s artists. All I can tell you is how I feel when I see all of them perform.

I feel like I’m supposed to be on this planet. That life is worth living and more than that – it’s a noble endeavor. I feel like laughter and music can change the world and that it’s okay to tell people to do what they love to do and quote Hafiz poems and rejoice in their own mistakes. I feel honored to share the stage with them.

And by the way – that Hafiz poem I quote? It goes like this:

The small man
Builds cages for everyone
He
Knows.
While the sage
Who has to duck his head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the
Beautiful
Rowdy
Prisoners.

If I got you at all curious, here are some websites to check out :

www.annrandolph.com
www.jayleonhart.com
www.flashrosenberg.com
www.royzimmerman.com
www.princemyshkins.com

Spread the word.

2 comments:

andy gricevich said...

Thanks, Carla!

Great to meet you and see your work as well; you're an expert performer and, on first meeting, a cool person.

The pot was TERRIBLE in Berlin in the '20's... or so I'd guess. But early Brecht gets pretty loopy and surreal...

cheers,

Andy (from the Myshkins)

Carla Zilbersmith said...

And you needed a barrel full to get high! Can't wait to see you in Berkeley in April.