Tag Archives: Show Business

Plundering the pastoral

Planted plenty of romaine, arugula and red leaf lettuce. Offstage for more than a year I’ve grown accustomed to not having to chase the demon showman from town to town. Good lets grow tomatoes to celebrate. Squash and cantaloupe seem to be making a go of life here.

I’m a lucky creative stiff. Swashbuckling for my supper in front of an audience has kept me busy for most of 5 decades, but a good part of these many years there’s been the writing too. Creative types without an outlet are a danger.

Swinging for the fences, you know really getting over on an audience, nailing a well devised scene, these are not exercise’s they are full blown creative skirmishes. That’s what the untamed and untrammeled ego will do for you. Off the boards and out of the lights the pressure to perform retreats from the top of the to do list.

A solo vaudevillian is its own particular show business steed. You can do your set with your eyes closed, you can play it start to finish word for word. If you want you can improvise the set, riff all the way through, might be hard or might be just what the doctor ordered, usually we have material so we don’t have to open the vortex into the source fires, where sure a set of new might be willing to tumble on out.

I’m talking to the grapes, I’m singing with the birds, and whispering sweet nothings to a lizard. My backyard is a conversation.

Leon Redbone and I hooked up across Northern California to play some dates. Leon ever the pro’s pro was always banging out shows not just to keep food on his table, but since he had a name he’d carry a good size band along and for giggles toss a juggler into the act as his opener. Backstage we’d hang in the green room. Leon always said he’d rather be home working in his garden. The coy musician  didn’t say it once he said it a thousand times and meant by it that it was there that he was able to be of service to his wife, and his garden, both of which he dearly loved.

I was still too full of wild horses and tempting horizons. Tending to my own garden wasn’t in my fool youth’s playing cards.

Vince Giordano was out on the tour with Leon. Brooklyn based he brought out his collection of rare instruments, most no longer made, many seldom if ever heard or played. Like Leon, Vince was meticulous, his music was note for note pitch perfect. Leon’s sidemen all made the cut because these cats could keep up, they had a knack for nailing the tune.

I’m more than lucky I found this garden to tend.  Getting my barehands into the soil,  toiling beneath a wide brimmed straw hat, plucking a ripe blueberry to eat, caring for the living, paying my respects to the plants that have lived well beyond their prime, planting yams hoping for yam greens soon with whole yams to bake next winter.

That’s the big show. Tonight and for one lifetime only, appearing beneath the old oak tree, ladies and gentlemen “the father of my children” let’s hear it for the guy giving these plants his best…

diagnosing art brain

Artists find fitting in to be littered with warning signs. Ordinary day to day life triggers the creative mind. Some events pull us closer while other experiences repel. There is always this foreground-background dynamic. Point to what is standing out, a particular detail is where the talented mind leaps.  

Often alienated by the mundane, trapped in the tedious practicality of chores, when frequent impulses send the talented misfit on a quest for a more ascetic interconnection with the world.

The art brain is full of tripwires, people who care about what trials we endure will try to breakthrough, “you’ll be alright, you’ll settle down, a lot of us were like you when we were young.”

The admonitions are not helpful.

Nonconformists with a creative bent appear to be intentionally uncooperative, unwilling to be realistic about what to expect from a world that is optimized for the benefit of so many other more fundamental activities. A piece of art gives flight to the human spirit but is nowhere near as vital as is our access to running water and flushing toilets.

Most emerging artists don’t even know what’s wrong. Life is weird, things non-art addled brains seem to be able to tolerate are unendurable to the art freaks. Worse still are the creatives who haven’t settled on how to use this cognitive muscle. Some flit from poem to play to oil painting, they are surprised to learn that everyone else isn’t compelled to have such a penetrating appetite for wanting to manifest this vision so clear in their minds.

If there is early trauma in an artist’s life too many choose to leave the wound open and create from this tormented location. Because wounds stick out, command so much of our attention, the temptation to live in these wounds can distract from the real journey of living beyond these injuries. Gatekeepers daring to get in our way often feel the artists vengeance. Retaliation is all too human. Artist’s breakaway from what has harmed and scarred, once they’ve broken free, they can go their own way.

Bernard Moitessier writes after a year sailing solo at sea, “I found a little temple from forgotten times, lost in the faraway forest… But how can I tell them? How can I tell them that the sounds of water and the flecks of foam on the sea are like the sounds of stone and wind, helped me find my way? How can I tell them all those nameless things…leading me to the real earth? Tell them and not frighten them, without their thinking I have lost my mind.”

In 1967 the mystic sailor would sail non-stop for 37,455 miles. Moitessier abandoned the solo circumnavigation race, slinging a rock with message to a passing ship that he would not finish but instead would sail on in hopes of saving his soul. The sailor’s sailor finally came in from the sea putting his anchor down in Tahiti.

The French-Vietnamese Moitessier imagined his sailing was an opportunity to merge his soul to the wonder of passagemaking. Like Mount Everest rounding Cape Horn is a serious undertaking and has a history of killing mariners who have tried.

Painters showing new work at galleries may or may not sell, if they do, they may not command a fair price, perhaps they find success one year then what they feel is new and better work falls flat the next.

Try as they might to conform, working as art instructor they are viewed as quirky and difficult, they may or may not be offered a permanent position.

Pursuit of a career in show business because an insistent nagging voice, because you have no other talent, you cannot manage to impress attempting anything else, you are hired and soon dismissed, you are desperate and barely show any interest in doing anything else. You suffer mood swings, remain silent for days on end, and male or female it doesn’t matter you have a vague sense of being pregnant and the due date seems certain and near.

Interview after interview, it is the same, this isn’t something the actor wanted to do, it is something they had to do, nothing else worked.

I had gone by sailboat to find Moitessier along the Richmond waterfront. Holed up in a warehouse he was building his new boat Tamata. Joshua had been dragged ashore in a freak storm in Cabo San Lucas.

Happy as ever, waving, lending a hand to secure my bow, Moitessier’s young American friend, the street performer had come looking for him. Sitting on a jumbo bollard smoking cigarettes, recounting how having lost everything standing on the beach the situation hopeless then selling Joshua to some Dutch sailors for salvage rights. Moitessier knew when to let go.

Moitessier thought my working along the waterfront in Fisherman’s Wharf where I could play my comedy show for tips from tourists was a worthy path. How I had managed to fashion a simple live show that was good for the soul of the common man. How I had conjured up some way to make ends meet, to keep the “hungry cows” away. Moitessier knew along my path were hidden rocks and hazardous seas, the great circumnavigator had extra courage to share. Two rascals living by the seat of their pants determined to bet their lives, hoping against all odds that with some luck charm and faith in self they’d live to tell.