Tuesday, April 26, 2016

IF/THEN: THE MUSIC OF CHOICE

What if ...

It's a question we often ask ourselves. We decided to this, what would have happened if we had decided to that? We ask that question a lot during our lives and it can range from the mundane (maybe I should have the chicken salad instead of the double bacon poutine) to the prosaic (if I had taken that other job I would have my own company car) to the life altering (that guy/girl back in college, what if I had chosen them)

The conundrum is best expressed by the great British philosopher Jo Strummer: Should I stay or should I go

These are the kinds of questions posed in the musical If/Then currently playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. In the play we are introduced to Elizabeth, a young woman returning to New York City after a failed marriage in Denver Colorado ("I wasn't living in a city all these years, I was living in Denver") and searching for restart to her life. She is in Madison Square Park, awaiting an old college friend of hers and she meets a handsome young soldier and doctor returning from the war. Does she turn down the soldier's advances or does she go with them ... The musical shows us both possible outcomes as the story goes on

In the first act playwright Brian Yorkey's book is clever and quite funny. We follow Elizabeth through the two possibilities of her life, there are characters who exit in both worlds. All of her decisions, in both streams, stem from what she feels have bee wasted years in her life, in a marriage that was hollow in a place that lacked the vibrancy of her native NYC

It's a challenging play for all the actors. Everyone is essentially playing two characters, one in each stream of Elizabeth's life and accordingly each actor does double duty in the singing. All of the actors are up to the task; as Lucas, Elizabeth's best friends and maybe lover, Anthony Rapp does not possess the most technical of voices but he more than makes up for it in his understanding of what the songs are about, and his character should best express them

But really, if I'm talking about this production, the main talking point is Jackie Burns. While many of the actors do double duty on the songs, as Elizabeth, the character around whom the entire story revolves, Burns does double lead duty

As the play starts off, when it is more jovial and satirical, her voice is efficient and effective. But as the story progresses it becomes increasingly dramatic, as Beth's life goes on her decisions become more important and what were once intellectual concerns, become life changing.

And Jackie's voice changes. It becomes big and powerful and filled with emotion while never lose pitch or tone. It is a jaw dropping performance. When I hear of these manufactured pop divas who need to lip sync during their "live" performances because it's just too darn challenging to sing while dancing I would love to drop them in Miss Burn's world. Not only does she sing two lead roles, she dances and she acts and she has to move to keep up with a very fluid stage design.

The story is a good one, sharp and witty and never afraid to show the darker side of life. The entire cast is strong. But Jackie Burns is the star of If/Then on every level. I was not aware of her before this performance but she could now get me into a seat regardless of the play in which she was performing


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

LOVE ON TRIAL: THE JUDAS KISS

Love conquers all, or so goes the platitude. Well, like most platitudes, it's pretty much full of shit.

OK, maybe love can conquer but it can also destroy. Not just the love of another, but the kind of love shared between the two. Or so it stands in David Hare's play The Judas Kiss, currently running at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.

Judas Kiss tells the story of Irish poet and playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde. Probably best known for his only novel The Portrait of Dorian Grey and for plays such as The Importance of Being Ernest. Also known for being a general wit, scholar and raconteur of a very high level. And also known for being gay in and time and place where that was, incredibly, illegal

As the play opens, Wilde is deep into the second of three famous trials. In the first trial, Wilde sues the Marquis of Queensbury (yeh, the boxing rules guy) for slander, after the powerful British lord accused the playwright of being a "sodamite" Wilde loses that case and it opens him to being charged with "gross indecency. Yeh, basically accused of being gay. A very serious charge in that time and in that place. If convicted, Wilde would go to prison and his life as an artist and public person would be over

The trial is not going well. In a hotel room in London, Robbie, a former lover of Wilde's and his most honest friend, has arranged for the playwright to leave London, leave England, to go into exile in order to avoid prison. It is a dire situation, with reporters outside and police on the way. Robbie has arranged everything, he fears that if Wilde returns to the courtroom, his next stop would be prison

There is another person in that hotel room though and he does not want Wilde to leave. He wants him to stay, to return to court, to fight. It is important, he says, that Wilde stand his ground and help turn the tide of prejudice against homosexuals

This person is a beautiful young man called Bosie. He is Wilde's current lover. And oh yeh, he is the nephew of the Marquis of Queensbury. A callow wannabe poet, it is suggested that Bosie is using this situation  to thumb his nose at his powerful family ... while staying in it

The play opens with a pair of naked bodies in that hotel room, having sex. They are not Wilde and Bosie, they are not even Wilde and Robbie. They are two of the three hotel employees who serve the men in the first act of the play. Sex plays a part in the story, the lure of the flesh, the need to release but really, this is a story about love

Oscar Wilde is a brilliant man. He is a keen observer of society and an eloquent satirist. Much of his dialogue in the play, if not direct quotes, are close enough. He is hilarious, with that kind of wit we admire but wish never to be directed to us

But Wilde is weak. His weakness is love. He cannot see Bosie for who and what he really is. Robbie can but he cannot sway his friend to that point of view. And thus begins Wilde's downfall. His love for Bosie leads him back to the trial and eventually to prison for three years

The second act takes place shortly after Wilde is released from prison, essentially in exile in Italy. He is penniless. His wife is threatening divorce and to cut him off from his income and his children. Robbie has come to bear the bad news. But the actual bad news is that Wilde is once again with Bosie. And once again, Bosie breaks Wilde's heart

The Judas Kiss is a sad story. Sad that Wilde is the architect, in some respect, of his own demise. Somewhere inside he must understand that Bosie is poison but he can't tear himself away. Sad that who we choose to love is not only not accepted by society, but can put our lives in danger. That applied to homosexuals in the Victorian age and it applies to homosexual men now, in several countries across the globe

For all its sadness though, the play illicit much laughter. Wilde was a great wit and Hare does a perfect job of capturing that wit. From the profane to the bawdy to the eloquent, there is an awful lot of humour in a play that should be considered a tragedy

There is also and awful lot of high quality acting. Charlie Row  as Bosie has the always difficult job of playing a villain who maintains our interest. He is quite riveting in the role, you really can't take your eyes off him. Cal MacAnnich as Robbie beautifully expresses himself through a wide range of emotions as he desperately fights to save the man he loves, even though that man has given himself to another

Rupert Everett is an actor with a reasonable string of TV and movie credits but I can't say he's ever been on my radar. The Judas Kiss has changed that. He is absolutely magnificent as Wilde. Wilde was a man of words and Everett surrenders to that, for most of the play he is just sitting in a chair. But his voice, his timing and his body control even while seated, takes us through a wide range of emotions. It really is a pretty spectacular performance

Everett gives us an incredibly bright, incredibly funny man trapped in a time and circumstance that seemed to set him up for tragedy. He knows his fate, if he lets himself love who needs to love and be the person that he wants to be. But he goes there. In some ways Wilde was a foolish man. But he was also a very brave one. At one point Bosie, a self declared poet, tells Wilde that he must leave him so that he, Bosie, can give the world his gift. Rosie's gift seems to be childishness and curliness. It's Wilde gift that lives on. And Rupert Everett's gift that we are able to open it

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

THIS POLITICIAN WILL BE SCHEDULED AT OUR DISCRETION

Seems I'm writing more about politics these days than is my wont but let's face it, these are some pretty crazy days

My knowledge about politics is, at best, average but I do have a little background in media and that's the theme that really seems to be snarling and spitting and demanding attention. It's right over there, in the corner. Please don't feed it. And avoid eye contact at all times

Yesterday saw the passing of Rob Ford, former city and councillor and former mayor of Toronto. Although his time as our mayor was brief, he became one of the most famous people in Canada. The Crack Mayor. Yeh, that guy

Ford died of cancer at the age of 46. That is way way way too young. He leaves behind too young kids. It sucks beyond comprehension. And it sucks that we all have these stories in our own personal lives. Cancer is the truly great Evil of our times

There are parallels being drawn between Ford and Donald Trump. Both are the sons of rich men, self made men, who gave their sons a start in the world. In Ford's case it is even more true, his father was not only a businessman, he was a politician, a Provincial Member of Parliament for a while. Seems to me Ford Senior was trying to build himself a political dynasty as several members of his family have been or still all involved in politics

Trump is an elitist. He is always happy to let everyone know how rich he is, how much money he makes, how many deals he's gotten the upper hand in. The fact that his followers consider him to be "non establishment" is rather mind boggling. Ford was the opposite. He sold the "common man" persona. He loved football, he cursed, he was rude and blunt. But people loved him. I think he was a good city councillor, there are hundreds of stories of him giving out his home phone number, of returning calls, of getting things done for people even if they were not his constituents. I hardly doubt Mr Elite Combover Boy would ever do that

As a mayor, Ford was a different animal. Here he becomes more Trump like, a privileged rich boy who just expected everything to fall in place for him. He could not handle opposition. He could not handle critisism. He became rude, mocking, ignorant and combative. People say they love politicians without filters; fair enough, but when that non filtering leads them to say something stupid and disrespectful they should have the the grace to at least be chagrined and use a sense of humour. Like former Toronto mayor Mel Lastman. I don't think Ford had a sense of humour. He would just become more truculent and mean spirited

I don't know if Ford ever really wanted to be mayor. He was in his element and as a councillor but he never seemed comfortable as a mayor. In his riding of Etobicoke he knew every street, he knew the people, it was a finite landscape. But Toronto is a huge, multicultural, complex city and and I don't think Ford ever really got a handle on it

So, why did he become mayor. Well, here comes the media part and it ties him even closer to Trump and to one other politician

The media. In many ways, Mayor Rob Ford was a media creation.

Ford became the darling of a local radio station here, a talk radio station that overall has a pretty conservative philosophy. He and his brother Doug had their own weekend talk show and Rob was a regular guest on several shows. One of these shows, hosted by a guy named Oakley (a failed stand up comedian who overnight, as soon as he got a radio show, somehow became an expert on international politics) actively and vocally encouraged the counsellor to run for mayor. And he did

Trump of course is a media whore. Here he is on the campaign trail calling the Media "terrible people you have no idea" but of course he is famous due to the media. From his TV show The Apprentice and many many appearances, many of which he orchestrated. Yeh, Trump loved the media when he was able to tailor it to his own end. This media that actually reports on things he says and does, well that media is just awful

Ford was very much the same way. He had his connections to talk radio to and to the Toronto Sun and it was all jolly there, but when other media outlets began to examine his behaviour and actually asked him to take responsibility, well that media was evil. It was The Toronto Star that broke the whole crack scandal; before they finally did Ford bragged about how he had instructed his staff at City Hall to never return the Star's inquires. That worked for him. To this day, editors from the Sun just blame everything that Ford did on the Star.

So we seem to have a publicly elected politician who really seems controlled by the media. Ain't that interesting

Wait, we're not done yet. There is more mediameetspolitics to consider. As in John Tory, Toronto's current mayor. Tory sits on the board of Bell Media. For a brief time he tried to be head of the provincial conservative party (considering an old nickname in Canada for that party is the Tories, well that just seemed too obvious) When that venture fell apart, what did Tory do ... he became a radio talk show host After that, he became mayor

Yeh, can we see a pattern here

Presence of mind is important when selling a brand. And politicians are brands. I would wager that the vast majority of Trump's followers really know much about him, but they know him, they know his name, know his brand

Rob Ford was known to a lot of people, he had many real interactions with the people in his riding. But he wasn't known as much to the rest of Toronto. But he was on the radio, and people on the radio talked about him a lot. And John Tory, well you could always talk to him .. if you phoned in to his radio show

Presence of mind.

Now here in Toronto, shortly after Ford's death, his media buddies are so ardently revisiting his past that their fingers are bleeding. While his media critics are showing some compassion by not addressing the man's failures as mayor, his supporters have no such respect. Joe Wormington, editor at the Sun, the many henceforth to be known as the Weasel, was on the radio the day of Ford's death, promoting himself as the only ethical reporter in all the world and that every other word written about the man was just to make money for those other media outlets. Pretty disgusting actually

Ford never seemed comfortable in his expanded public role as the mayor. And it seems to me that the people who may have put him there don't really care. That puppet is done. Let's put the strings on a new one



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

LET'S MAKE IT GREAT TO BE BACK AGAIN: THE ART OF THE POLITICAL SLOGAN

Slogans. They've always been a part of politics. Especially campaigns and generally, they really don't mean very much. They are catch phrases, identifiers, mnemonic triggers really. Pavlovian in nature. You hear this phrase you think of this party, this candidate

In our sound bite, tweet driven world, slogans have taken on new meaning by having even less meaning than ever before

Doesn't it seem that the more tools that we have to facilitate communication the less actual communication we seem to do. We tweet, we like we share but are we communicating any more than before we had all this technology

For political and marketing strategies instant messaging in all it's formats is just another way to keep slapping that brand our our skin. Here's another sound bite, another slogan, there is no thought behind it, there is no substance but it is imprinting on your brain or so is the hope

Here in North America there are two slogans, or catchphrases, being pounded out by politicians that really are consulate doublespeak

Down in the US they are campaigning, actively campaigning, so certainly not at all surprising that slogans are being slung like the g strings around the hips of a tired stripper

The Donald may be the master of saying a lot without ever saying everything. There is no substance in anything that he says. It amazes me he gets away with saying "you have no idea" As in the media is terrible, "you have no idea" Hillary is corrupt "you have no idea" Um, ok, I have no idea Donald .. do you?

But it's his slogan I want to focus on. "We'll make America great again" It's hardly innovative. But when combined with his total lack of a platform, there's a lot to pick apart here. Firstly, OK, when was America great. You're going to make it great again, so when was it great, pin point that for me. And you should probably tell me why it was great, so I have some idea how you're going to get us back to that point. Isolationism is nothing new in American politics and what with The Donald's wall and wanting to deport muslims, is that what he is referring to, when the US stood alone .. Yeh, before it had much money or power. When the "walls" went down around the US and immigrants began to flood into the country, isn't that when it began to be great, when it entered one of its greatest building phrases. As a builder, you'd think The Donald would know that

I also want to know when the US ceased to be great. Was it when the last Republican president bankrupted the planet and, through a profit inspired invasion of foreign countries, inspired the current wave of terrorism. Or did the US cease to be great when a black man became president, a man Trump spent millions of dollars trying to prove was not even American

Up here in Canada the campaign for PM is officially over but our PM still seems hot on the campaign trail. Not a photo op this lad will ever avoid. And he is smiling for those cameras with his own slogan "Canada's back"

Um, Justin, where did it go? And to what are coming back?

It's very much like make America great again, isn't it. Scarily like that. There seems to be quantifiers needed here but there are none to be found

Is Canada back because a dude name Trudeau is once again PM? Is it back because we have a PM who instead of hiding in his office loves having his face everywhere? The Boy King likes to think of himself and his policies as innovative and forward thinking, if that's so, Justin, then you shouldn't be using the word "back" so much

In the long run I don't pay much attention to slogans. As I've said, they've always been there. But in both the case of Combover Boy and Captain Arrogance, we're not getting much else. Whether you are running a campaign or running a country, there must come a point where the slogan gives way to some substance.

In this age of plausible deniability politicians rarely commit to anything. Even campaign promises are seen to be ephemeral. Disposable. Say many words, mean nothing. It's all just to capture your attention without requiring a decision.

Did politicians ever say what they mean? Not really sure. But if they did, it would be great to get back to that


Thursday, March 17, 2016

THE FROG IN HER THROAT, THE LUMP IN OUR HEARTS

Last night Collette and I spent an evening with a senior citizen. She was not feeling very well, recovering from a chest cold and had to stop from time to time to drink water and take a throat lozenge. She had agreed to share some music with us but due to her health, admitted to being ill prepared. At one point she joked "Welcome to our rehearsal"

Well, that "rehearsal" and her ill feelings mattered not a whit. Yeh, that senior citizen was Bonnie Raitt


Bonnie Raitt had 2/3rds speed still out performs many other performers at full strength, even it they're juiced, surrounded by dancers on exploding stages and lip syncing

With a band, some of whom have been with her for 25 years, who understands Raitt's every nuance and could help out in those brief moments when she struggled, you really had to pay attention to find any gaps that were in the music due to her, as she called, froggy throat. At one point she commented "Good thing I sing the blues"

Yes. A very very good thing

There is something special about live music. The things that can't be duplicated in a recording session, those unexpected moments

Last year, when we saw Basia Bulat, it was at the end of the concert when Basia, stepped away from the mic, stepped to the edge of the stage at Massey Hall and unmiced, all alone with her tiny ukulele, she sang out into the theatre and it literally made my spine tingle

Last night, it was the way Bonnie dealt with the limitations of her bad throat. No quit in his woman, that's a fact. Decades of slogging it out in the music business, sometimes being acknowledged by the masses, usually working in her own idiom, beloved but largely unrecognized. She played songs that she had not played live in over 30 years, songs that she had recorded but had fallen off the set list. Not many people have those kinds of resources upon which to draw

One of the highlights of a Bonnie Raitt concert, for me one of the highlights of any live performance, is when she sing John Prine's Angel From Montgomery. Her live performance of this song is one of those reasons why you go see a concert. Her live version is far superior to any version of it she ever recorded. It is a seminal moment. Like when KD Lang sings Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. I had to admit that last night I was a bit concerned

Yeh, sometimes I ain't so bright

There were a couple of reasons why Bonnie was able to deliver this song in a way that literally put a lump in my throat. First was her understanding of the song. She has been singing this song for a long long time. It is more than a song on a list that people want to hear. It means something to her, that is obvious. She knows what the song is, she knows what the song means. Her technical expertise allowed her to skirt around the tightness in her throat, still being able to achieve some beautiful harmonies with her band mates. But it was her emotional understanding of the song, and her understanding of her audience's emotions, that allowed her to give this song all the nuance and power you could possibly want

Understanding her music and understanding her audience is another important factor that Bonnie brings to a live show. Another high moment in her set is always I Can't Make You Love Me, not just one of her biggest commercial successes, but a song into which the singer puts everything. I've seen her have to take a moment after doing the song, letting her band rock out, to pull herself back together

It's a tough song for her to sing, both technically and emotionally but as she said "This song is important to me and I know it's important to you" and the road warrior understands why she was on that stage, to give us what we want

And she gave it us. The only song to which she did not accompany herself, just sitting on her stool (her comment about "us old broads need to sit down now and then" reminded me of when BB King would take a stool "we're not sitting down because we're tired, you understand") She sat there, for once her hands absent of a guitar and just poured her vocal chords and her spirit into this torch song

Yeh, that's why we watch live music




Wednesday, March 2, 2016

THIS IS NOT HOW JAMES CAMERON STARTED

So. Here's the deal

I used to make videos for a living. If no one wanted a video, I never made one. I worked on a wide variety of video for a wide variety of clients. I made the video but it didn't belong to me. It belonged to my client. I made the video on their behalf

No matter what my role on the video, writer or editor or camera or all of the above, I was making this video for someone else. I had to please them. Using my skill to give them a video that met their needs. And making the video within their budget and their timeline. For some that would be stifling creatively but it was not for me. I liked the deadlines, I liked the restrictions, I enjoyed the challenge of being creative while meeting that bottom line

I don't make videos as my principle means of income any more. But I still make videos. Commercially, I look for videos that are interesting and different and for clients with whom I can strike some kind of rapport

I've also been making non commercial "amateur" videos for fun. But even then, I've sought motivation elsewhere, entering film festivals with a theme or a brief as they are often called. And often with really tight deadlines. Yeh, that's my pathology.

Most of those videos have been music video format, no dialogue, no acting, none of this pesky actors or those cumbersome scripts

But I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something I've never before done and I wanted to do something a little more complex than shooting footage and marrying it to music

I came up with the idea of a documentary based around the fan (comics, sic fi, anime etc) that I attend here in the city. Two years ago I spend four days at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto, shooting my brains out. The doc I had planned was not going to happen for reasons too prosaic to go into here. But I had all that footage

Well, I could still do something different. And I've done that. A video I've never before done. Something a bit more than music video style. Interviews, footage, script narration, titles .. ta da

It's not a documentary, really and it's not a promotional vid, god knows I've done enough of those. I guess you could call it a commentary. For the first time I got to write a script in my voice .. yeh, I know, that's a risk. But that's what doing new things is all about

I'm not really sure what this thing is or to whom it would appeal but all of the content is original so it qualifies to be entered into film festivals, something else I wanted to do

So, you've been warned. Here is Fan Love Love Fans

FanLoveLoveFans from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

CANADA I DO NOT SING OF THEE, I JUST MAKE A LOT OF NOISE

OK let's talk National Anthem here

Our National Anthem. The Canadian one.

Here in Toronto it's come up a couple of time cuz some jerk on city council decides the lyrics need to be changed to be more "gender neutral" I thought a neutered gender was a eunuch but that's another story. Also another story: Why is some street level city politician whose duties should include fixing street lights and counting manhole covers concerned with a national anthem

It came up (the anthem that is) this weekend as Toronto hosted the NBA Allstar game. Canadian singer Nelly Furtado has become a social media pariah (seriously, how difficult is that these days) for her interpretation of the anthem. A new arrangement, one could say. And sang poorly for what I heard of it

People seem genuinely upset by her changing the arrangement and to that I respond: Who the fuck cares

For as long as I can recall, seriously, I have never felt connected to the anthem. I've always had a problem with it; well a couple of problems actually

Problem the First: The song itself. Aesthetically, it just sucks. Musically, it sounds like a funeral dirge. And not one of the fun kind. Isn't one of the notions behind a national anthem is that it's supposed to inspire? If the purpose of this is to inspire me to take a nap well, job well done

Let's get to the lyrics. The song as we know it was based on a poem by R Stanley Weir from 1908. It was modified but I wonder to what degree. My point is: How does this represent Canada? Aside from the line about the "true north" this song is incredibly generic. It's like something written my committee. It's an example of our country's infamous lack of confidence "Oh know, let's not to be seen as bragging or whatever, let's have our country be represented by lyrics that could be played in a supermarket"

The version of the song often used at sporting events etc has no real mention of Canada or its history or its geography. The longer four verse version does refer to pines and maples and rivers but yeh, lots of countries have those. Nothing to actually inspire here and nothing to promote what this country is. But oh yeh, we have to be patriots and stand on guard for it; "nothing much going on here son but be ready to shoot that gun when I tell ya"

There are things here that make me understand why people have so many PC objections: Dang, it's so religious it may as well be a hymn. And specifically religious as in Christian. And it has that colonial ring to it: "maidens" and "sons" etc. Yeh no thanks, I ain't interested in bowing down to any entity that refers to women as maidens

This country has a disproportionate number of high quality poets and song writers and musicians, surely we can come up with something much much better. Something written by an individual inspired by their country, not some committee who seem more interested in conversion than inspiration

The other problem I have with our anthem is the issue I would have with any anthem; the fact that I'm supposed to just except it and sing it and somehow view it as something to which reverence must be paid

Um, come again?

This is something that's never really worked for me. This is supposed to be a democracy, we put the govt in place (even if we do that poorly) the point of which is: The govt works for us. We pay em, we hire em, they work for us. Yeh I know, I'm hilarious

In Grade Two I got my first ever strap from a principle because I wouldn't sing God Save the Queen. Even then, I knew we didn't have no queen so why should I sing about her. That is no longer required in schools, to sing that song

You're welcome

The govt's job is to take of the things that we can't, to manage the country. It's not to tell us what we should sing, what we should say, how we should feel.

Hey, if someone wants to sing the anthem please go right ahead. I don't mind waiting for you. You want to pray to your god, yup, by all means, I'll be over here sipping my beer.

I've been told that "people died for our freedom so don't dishonour the anthem" Yeh, exactly. I'm free not to sing it. You're free to sing it. It's that simple

The PC people are offended by the song's lyrics. But it's also PC to expect me to accept something just because I'm told to do so. You want me to sing this song, you want me to acknowledge it, give me a reason to so so. Make it about my country. Make it something that actually represents me and everyone else in this crazy country

Let Nellie Furtado mess with the music. Let anyone change the lyrics. That's actually democratic, that's actually "freedom" If the song is sung differently by everyone who sings it, well hell, that would actually be Canadian; province to province, region to region, neighbourhood to neighbourhood, everyone in this country is different. We throw around this term diversity. All right then, let's go out

Don't try to make us uniform, don't ask us to conform. You want an expression of this country? It ain't gunna be in some song. It's gunna be a lot of voices, singing different words, mostly off key

Hell yeh. Pass me the maple syrup



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