Saturday, September 10, 2016

My Inner SP Fan Rejoices

Just watched this:

The biggest part that caught my ear was obviously the Smashing Pumpkins news.  Corgan getting back to writing rawk songs?!  YES!  Gish/Siamese Dream era-ish sensibilities?  YES!  With Jimmy Chamberlin on the drums?!  YES!  Maybe with the original line up touring?  YES!

I've been pretty disenchanted with Billy's passion in his music over the last few years; so much so that I no longer will buy tickets to shows.  The last Chicago show they did, I just went and hung across the street while they played.  However, now, if the passion is back, I may be brought back into the flock more tightly.  I'm not expecting Gish II or Siamese Dream II but rather commitment  in his performance and solidarity in the band.  It's so hard being a Pumpkins fan all fo the time as billy always finds ways to challenge me :)  Lets hope this one pays off.

Another thing that caught my ear was the Billy finished up a solo record with my all-time favorite producer Rick Rubin.  I am not a fan at all of Billy's first solo record so normally I would write this second record off as a vanity project.  However, if he has Rick Rubin involved, I will definitely give it a chance even if it isn't SP.  Rick Rubin's sensibilities are spot on 90% of the time with artists.  If a song comes on from an artist I don't necessarily like/follow and I like it, I find out many times that Rick had a hand in doing it (ahem, Limp Bizkit's "Results May Vary").  So, that's exciting.

So, let's see what fruits come to bear in 2017!  I'm excited.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

From 9/11 to Sandy Hook: How Conspiracy Theorists Suck

I read the following article today:

It resonated with me today being a father of children myself.  I can't truly imagine what'd it'd be like to have to find out my children were killed/murdered in any fashion let alone a la the Sandy Hook shooting.  However, I can empathize because it made me sick to my stomach when I heard about it.  The pain this father must feel has got to be extraordinary and I wouldn't wish it on anybody.

I never really thought about the fall out from Sandy Hook other than the political discussion regarding gun control and mental health services in the US.  This article descrives this father's plight of having not only to bury his son but having to deal with the idiotic conspiracy theorists/trolls rampaging online.  The amount of anger and anguish this family must be going through must be unbearable at times.  I would lose my mind if people wrote off a personal tragedy as anything other than what the end result remains - loved ones were lost and they're never coming back.

The thing I hate most about conspiracy theorists is that they have a lot of questions and a lot of answers but lack a lot of proof to support their statements.  I must've watch the "9/11 was an inside job" ragumentary Loose Change in all of its incarnations at least a dozen times.  What entertained me were the theories they came up with to explain events that many thousands of people saw with their own two eyes - two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, fires raged for a long time, then the buildings came down.  The filmmakers point out issues with the 9/11 Commissions' report and actually do provide their own theories as to what happens (sort of) but provide ZERO EVIDENCE to support their claim.  There's a lot of demanding for "answers" and demands on releasing things that may/may not exist to the general public.  If asked to support/recreate the theories in which they support, there are a million excuses as to why they can't do it.  I have to ask, "If it's so important to you to deny the facts presented, why is it not equally or even more important to prove you're right?"

I have seen "truthers" saying things like:
  • The planes that crashed into the buildings never existed.  They were elbaorate holograms by the government generated to coincide with a controlled demolition of the buildings to justify a sinister plot to go to war.
  • The planes were real but never had people on them.  The passengers were taken to secret government facilities, deplaned, and either killed or given new identities so that the planes can be used to induce martial law on the east coast (New World Order type stuff).
  • The planes did crash as stated but there was NO WAY POSSIBLE that the buildings could go down (even though the supports were heavily weakened by the crash itself and fires further weakened what remained to the point they couldn't support the weight of the rest of the building).
I've tried to buy into these guys theories.  I really have.  The one 9/11 event that never truly convinced me went down the way I would think it would was United 93 which crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.  All I saw on TV was smoking hole in the ground and no wreckage whatsoever.  Despite the lack of evidence, I will go with the official story because I CAN'T PROVE A COT DAMN THING OTHERWISE.  

What keeps turning me off to the truther movements out there is that NO EVIDENCE is presented to support their claims.  The excuse that typically comes up is "Well...The government did XYZ to supress that information therefore I can't show you the truth!" Shut up.  Seriously.

So, when reading what Lenny has had to go through with people denying that his son never existed to be killed in the first place, having people calling him and his family at all times of the day to harass him, and to destroy everything one could hold onto that makes you believe people are inherently good is just horrible.  These people want him to suffer to make themselves feel better about themselves in a sick, twisted way.  I'm just glad he's found a way to dish it back on them.

Read the article

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Just Remember

Those times I visited my best friend in a mental hospital weekly
Those times I helped my girlfriend fix the hole in her belly
Those times I lived with starting over every day with a friend
Those times I made the trip to the city ot keep things going

You understimate

Just remember
I am.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What A "Trill"! Comedy, Craft, and Community in Houston, TX!

Station Theatre - Houston, TX

I just returned from the Trill Comedy Festival in Houston, TX.  I'm glad to be in my own bed but already miss the great friends I've made, the colleagues sharing their passion for improv, and the support I was shown while I was there.  It was an experience for my personal history book thus I want to document it here while it's still fresh on my mind.

Talking Taboo -  Playing with Race, Gender, and other No-Nos
I got the honor of doing my inaugural festival workshop Talking Taboo, a workshop designed to allow players to play characters and situations that they don't feel they can due to societal norms and conventions.  Here's a description of what it addresses:

"Ever wonder what it’d be like to play characters, relationships, and situations that you’ve always wanted to but others told you not to? Have you shied away from exploring new creativity because of how you may be perceived? This workshop is to discuss and play with the taboos of improv such as race, gender, religion, politics, sex, mortality, and language among many others to break down the barriers to unlock realism and depth to your scene work based on every day human experience."

They gave me two workshops to do over the weekend and they both went splendidly.  We spent time coalescing skills that may have already had regarding "truth in the scene" where the players play characters with wants & needs with respect to the reality they initiate in the scene.  Although this concept is not novel, what was was adding a layer of playing characters and addressing situations that the community normally avoids.  I felt that the folks got something out of it if not just on their work on stage but as a way to begin talking about these things to explore areas formerly closed off to us actors/improvisers.  There was one individual who really had some breakthroughs both personally and artistically in the class.  

I was so happy to get the chance to do these workshops.  It gave me a place to give back to the community by addressing something that I feel has been hurting us collectively.  I also liked accomplishing a goal of being "that guy" who taught something at a recognized festival!

Impro Español
Me and Blad Moreno
I was fortunate enough take Impro Español, my English/Spanish two-man show with the über talented Blad Moreno, down to Houston.  We were given a headlining slot for the Saturday 7 PM show featuring Freudian Slip, the College Improv Tournament champions from Texas A&M, along with local sketch duo Ned & Kelly bringing out the best humor with a Redbox influence.  Our show was off-the-hook!  In the span of 35 minutes, we were able to not only able to showcase fun Spanish & English scenes with no translation included but had a very well-received silent scene Blad commanded along with a scene where I took a many risks of bodily harm (walking on chairs, over people, and staking unstackable chairs to get on top of) that sent the audience into a frenzy.  We topped it off with some characters showcasing the concepts taught in the Talking Taboo workshop as well as by pulling up someone up on stage to help us with a callback.  IT. WAS. AWESOME!!!

Silent Mime Fight Scene During Impro Español's Set
Here're some of the comments I heard from the weekend on that show (I really wish I could document these things so that a] it doesn't look like they were made up b] I don't come off too bragadocious):
  • "You guys were DEFINITELY  the headliners for that show." - JB
  • "I've never seen anything like that before. It was so cool that even though I couldn't understand the Spanish, I still understood what was going on." - Asif
  • "You should come back next year!" - TJC
  • "Why aren't we doing this more often?!!" - Nelson & Blad

Having such a great show and such fantastic support really made this trip memorable.  But there was definitely more to this experience than one show.

One thing that I must admit is that I don't do a lot of "experimental" improvisation.  I've been playing it safe with trying to just get good at the "standard" forms out there (short-form & long(er) form).  Houston seems to be very open to trying out all kinds of improvisation.  I learned just how much more I have to learn.

One form that I've heard about but not really given second thought of performing personally was the monoscene form where the entire show is one continuous scene between static characters in a static location.  It's more like a one-act play than a traditional improv show.  I got the opportunity to try it out in a non-performance fashion with a Houstonian who I sat down next to in the green room on a couch.  She had taken my workshop previously that day. She was drinking the remaining maragarita mix straight from a bottle when  I struck up a conversation with her playing my beloved "bum" character "Cecil". She played along and we did what felt like a 20-25 minute set of improv between the two of us going back and forth.  We covered everything from politics to religion to medical ailments to societal ills.  We even got the chance to practice concepts from the Talking Taboo workshop by bring up/playing things we knew could offend but if played from a position of truth, would be forgiven/ignored.  It was so much fun!

It went so well and I got so inspired by this exchange, I was tempted to ask if we could pull up the couch on stage after the last show so we could try it out at the festival.  Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and instead it's got me thinking about what I need to do/learn to do this show in the future.

Houston's Scene's Got A Leg Up on Chicago
Houston,TX Skyline
One thing that struck me as being so different than the scene of improv I'm used to was just how closely knit the Houston scene was.  Everybody semeed genuinely happy for each other to succeed and were willing to help others to get ahead.  I cannot say that about the Chicago improv scene.  I feel that we're 80% haters and 20% okayers with regards to supporting each other(FYI, I'm guilty of hating too).  When I was there, there was genuine interest in what was going on and a sense of pride as to what their scene had to offer.  It's left an impression on me to bring that attitude back to foster amongst my projects back home.

Everybody was super nice and were willing to bend over backwards for the performers. Usually I find someone to not like at these festivals for some reason or another but I left Houston loving everybody.  No one was rude or dickheaded - everybody was chill.  It was "yes and" personified!

I can't wait to go back next year. Special shout out to the curators, the theatre owners, staff, performers, and audiences that came out this year.  You helped me grow both as a person and as an artist.  THANK YOU!!!!

P.S. Special thanks to Jessica Brown, Zak Kinnaird, Roger Anderson, and Steven Saltsman for their super hard work, awesome hospitality, and most of all friendship!


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Rediscovering The Pumpkins

Everyone knows I'm a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan for 20+ years.  Many accused me of leaving the confines of Texas to head up to Chicago to stalk Billy's every move.  It just turned out I must've put it into the Universe and it delivered me to the grace of the "city by the lake".

I've been looking at putting together a set of Smashing Pumpkin covers for open mic/performance opportunities.  I went through all of the 540 tracks I've got and weeded them down to the following:

The interesting thing is that as of late I've been waning a bit in wanting to do things Pumpkins related.  Per previous blogs, I've always stuck up for Billy even when he's challenged my own fandom both musically and artistically. However, I haven't been to a live show since 2011 as I don't sense the passion and fire in his performances as I have in the past.  Yes, I realize he's not in his twenties anymore and can't run around the stage around like a madman but it's more than that.  I just can't hear the passion in his singing (as challenging as that can be at times) that made me attracted to the Pumpkins in the first place.  I feel like half the time he doesn't want to be there and when he does, I sense a brooding, dark man on stage.  I have been down with the records as of late and have cherished older live stuff where I hear the hunger of a band that thought could really change things.

I recently watched Billy do a broadcast on Periscope and got inspired to do the same.  I've done some live streaming in the past via Youtube ans UStream so the concept isn't new.  However, people are on their devices now and Periscope provides a way to integrate it into my portfolio of social media.  I figured, "Hey, why not do some concerts?"

I chose the Pumpkins as I haven't really been enjoying writing my own stuff because I get to conscious of my own stuff and want to be happy just playing songs I knew well.  Why not use the Pumpkin fandom to my advantage, right?  So, that's what I'm starting to do.

If you want to check out the fruits of my labor, follow me on Twitter at nelsonvelazquez and wait for the announcement of the next gig.