Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Moving On Up - The First Time I Made The Audience Mine

Picture it - San Antonio - 1991.  A curly headed Puerto Rican/Brazilian trumpet playing teenager prepares himself to visit Kerrville, TX for band camp to become the leader he always knew he'd be - a section leader.  He looked forward to the good things in life: his friends, his music, and the chance to see hot girls in bathing suits...
I was/am a band geek.  I love the idea of taking the disciplines of military drill & marching, the creativity of theatre, and the wonder of music and mashing them together to produce a 10 minute half-time show.  The Mighty Alamo Heights High School Marching Band took refuge in a town roughly 90 minutes northwest of San Antonio every summer for a week.  For many of us, it was the first time we were allowed to go away from home so we made the best of ever opportunity to act a fool as we could without getting caught or in trouble.  Most of it revolved around the pool and our dorm rooms.  We'd shoot for scoring with girls when most of the time it would end up being a male bonding experience where we strengthened our beliefs in the band's prospects to put on a great show and place well in competition.  It was also a great place for us to showcase, i.e., show off, our skills and prove that we were the "best" at what we did.

When I went to band camp as a sophomore, I was full of arrogance.  I was a section leader which meant I taught others how to march and play.  I also was in contention for first chair which came with all kinds of personal bragging rights and pride (none of which make you cool as an adult later).  I also had my best friend Ricky on-board as a freshman who I would help shape and mold into my protege (remember, I was really arrogant).  Ricky and I lived in the same neighborhood, were both trumpet players, and both supported each other.  It was awesome.  We were an unstoppable force to be reckoned with and along with our buddy Dan, we were the Three Amigos reincarnate (except Dan played tenor saxophone but we'll let that slide).

One of the rules we followed at band camp was that we were to keep every place we visited tidy.  If you left behind anything of importance, you got punished with running laps, push-ups, or public admonishment.  Once you served your punishment, you got your item back.  One morning Ricky and I left our music on the field when preparing for morning block and some upper classman found it.  We didn't even know it was gone until lunch time when we had a meeting after lunch to go over our afternoon activities.  Once we found out, we were asked if we wanted it back.  We both said "Yes." and walked up to the front of the group to receive our punishment.  We hung our heads down expecting the worse punishment possible when all of a sudden the Drum Major David Henslee says, "You have to sing a song in front of everybody".

Sing a song?


Seriously?  What kind of punishment is that?  perform in front of everybody?!  I look at Ricky and without hesitation bust out into the theme song form The Jeffersons.  People start laughing which was impetus for us to go all out with it.  I dug down deep, channeled my best Sherman Henslee attitude, and belted the song out even louder.  Then at one point, in an almost possessed state I point at the crowd and yelled, "CLAP!"  We got the back beat going in the room and we finished the song in a Christina Aguilera-like "We finally found a piece of the piiiiiiiiii-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!"  We got a massive applause and cheer at the end of our performance.  We accepted our music back, sat down, and both had red faces and huge grins on our faces.  We did it.  We rocked the party!

Afterwards, Ricky and I were reliving our moment and he goes, "That was awesome when you yelled out 'CLAP!' and got everyone in it."  I tried to be cool about it with a meek response of "Yeah" but inside, I knew I had tapped into something greater about performing for people; when people are involved in the performance and are having a great time, it just makes those coordinating it that much better.    That philosophy and fun is what I try to bring to my performances now.  Los Improviachis is the perfect amalgamation of what I started 20 years ago.  Rapture also has an audience element in it as well.

My CPCTIF2 classes have a show coming up.  I get to pass on this nugget of wisdom onto a new generation of actors.  It's awesome to see something so powerful continue for all to make their own.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


There's an article making the rounds online where Matthew Klickstein, the author SLIMED! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age, addresses his thoughts on racial diversity in Nickelodeon's modern programming.  Klickstein asserts that modern Nickelodeon shows featuring non-white actors in lead roles are a disingenuous attempt at racial diversity and serve to perpetuate tokenism in order to serve their true interest of turning a profit.  Unfortunately, one has to re-read the article 2-3 times to dig that point because he goes about getting to it in completely inappropriate way.

Problem? What Problem?
Do you think classic Nickelodeon shows would work today? They’re timeless, like Pete & Pete, but there’s the argument about how inclusive the series are and how they’re focused on white, well-off families. Shows like My Brother And Me, Taina, and My Cousin Skeeter are never going to get the same nostalgic treatment.

"I think it’s about quality.

The reason Pete & Pete does so well is it’s the best show from that era. It’s the best show from that network! Hands down: the way it looked, the music, the fact that they got all these really interesting cameos… so the fact that it happens to take place in the suburbs of New Jersey, you know, it’s a whitewashed area! There’s nothing to be said about that. So too with Clarissa."

Our nation's willingness to not discuss and accept our race issues creates problems in other ways.  Denying that there's a race problem creates a system where those in power (un)consciously place advantages for those who look and act like them, and those who benefit may not even realize that those controls are in place, thus, allowing those people to feel that no problem exists as they've never seen or experienced issues.  So, when the system is challenged and is accused of being "unfair", those in power can say, "We have people in here who are qualified to be here" as a simple all-things-considered excuse to continue their behavior.

Klickstein's "I think it's all about quality" statement is him side-stepping that fact there are problems in how TV casts in that they don't reflect the demographics of the population.  Trust - there are plenty of sh*tty shows on TV that don't have any quality irrespective of who's cast in them.  My observations are that most TV watchers want a level of "something different" and that achieving through diverse casts & writers is probably the easiest path to do so.  I think this one line discounts just about everything he has to say afterwards as him justifying that "Really, there is NO PROBLEM with not having culturally diverse programming on Nickelodeon!".

Forcing Diversity
Klickstein continues:
"I think it’s worse when they shove it in there. Sanjay and Craig is a really good example, which funnily enough is written in part by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi from Pete & Pete. That show is awkward because there’s actually no reason for that character to be Indian — except for the fact that [Nickelodeon President] Cyma Zarghami and the women who run Nickelodeon now are very obsessed with diversity. Which is fine — do what you’re gotta do, and Dora [the Explorer] was certainly something of a success, but there’s no reason for [Sanjay] to be Indian at all. No one working on that show is Indian. They’re all white. It’s all the white people from Bob’s Burgers and Will and Chris.

To just shove it in there because, “Uh-oh, we need diversity,” is silly and a little disgusting. It needs to be the best people working on the best shows. They happen to be white, that’s a shame. They happen to be all guys, that’s a shame. No one says this about sports — they do sometimes, the owners — but sorry, that most basketball, football players happen to be black. That’s just the way that it is. Publishing, too! You might not like this or care, but it’s very hard to be a man in the publishing world. No one talks about that. My agent: woman. My editor: woman. My publicist: woman. The most successful genre is young adult novels — 85% of which are written by women. That discussion doesn’t really come up when it’s the other way around.  It is 2014 now. It’s not 1995. Political correctness needs to change."
Ouch.  All kinds of ouch exists in this elaboration.   The first paragraph above makes Klickstein just look like bigot and a woman hater.  He implies that the character choice of having an Indian in a lead role for Sanjay and Craig is disingenuous because "nobody" of Indian background works on the show and that the all-white crew makes that decision merely a reflection of tokenism.

The next paragraph  I tend to agree with his statement about shoving diversity into a production for the sake of diversity is a bit disingenous.  It's difficult to gauge anybody's intentions when casting a production but if they didn't set out from the beginning to have room for diversity in the cast then decide to include someone of color, sexual orientation, or alternate background in "just cuz", I agree, that's tokenism.  However, if they said "We want an all black cast living in an all Jewish neighborhood run by a trans mayor", I would be ok with that level of planning.

I run a Latino theatre company and when I took over as artistic director, I pushed us to open up and diversify our casts because we needed to challenge ourselves by including non-Latino viewpoints in our work so that we could more genuinely respond to them as Latinos.  It was the best thing for the company as it brought more people to our casts, bigger audiences, and a lot of great, diverse work for us to use.  At the same time, I have productions in mind that will be all Latino because that's what the production calls for.  In this regard, if I were to put in a white guy "just cuz we need something non-brown", then that would be disingenuous.

The Plight of The White Man
 Klickstein continues:
"There are worlds where white guys get shit, too. I’m starting to do stand-up comedy now and it’s hard to go up there and talk about how hard it is to be a guy. People don’t wanna hear it! A girl can go up there and talk all she wants about how hard it is to be a girl, and she gets applauded. These are obviously some of my own personal views and aren’t as important, but I’m bringing up this stuff because it’s all very malleable, it’s very flexible."
This statement just comes off a pissed-off white guy who now has to compete with others to get their work out there.  Again, my anti-affirmative action guys just come off as guys who long for the days where white privilege would get them places and they didn't have to work as hard.  Boo hoo, Mr. Klickstein. Boo hoo.

It's Just Gotta Be "Good"!
Klickstein continues:
"What we really need to bring to the fore is: how good is the show? How good is the end product? I don’t really care who worked on it. I don’t really care what sector of society it shows. What I care about is: Is it good or is it bad? Pete & Pete is an amazing show; who cares that it was made by white people and is about white people? That’s not important. What’s important is, how good is it? Some of these other shows — My Brother and Me, Diego, and Legend of Korra — it’s great that they’re bringing diversity into it now. Fantastic. But you know those shows are not nearly as good as Ren and Stimpy, which was made by all white people! Or Pete & Pete, which was all white people! I’m not saying white people are better at it or anything, I’m just saying that part of it doesn’t matter. What matters is how good is it and does it hold the test of time?"
Here's where Klickstein contradicts himself.  Above he implied that Sanjay and Craig was no good because they didn't have any Indians on staff work but now he says "I don't really care who worked on it"?  Well, if he doesn't care who worked on it as long as its "good", then why does having diversity in the cast matter then?  Or does he only care when ever the show "sucks"?  

We Got A Long Way To Go
The rest of the article delves deeper into the hole Klickstein dug for himself so I won't bother responding to each point.  It's obvious that he's not for forced diversity in shows but he doesn't seem to support any diversity at all.  He'd rather continue having everything cast and written to his own experience while saying "Oh, no. I just want quality programming."  There is no easy solution for the lack of diversity in entertainment.  It's a symptom of our country's bigger race issues.

What do you think?  Does his article have any merit?  Do you disagree with anything he wrote?  Comment down below.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

What I Learned From My Facebook "Like" Sabbatical

I decided a month ago to quit liking things on Facebook.  The impetus for the liking vacation initially was to force myself to have something to say to people on my timeline and actually try to connect with people with my words versus a way-to-easy-to-accomplish action of merely liking something.  I also wanted to see what my feed would look like if I didn't let Facebook easily know what my preferences were.  The results were interesting.

Liking Is NewSpeak
The first thing I noticed was that not liking something was REALLY difficult to do.  That like link/button/icon was so easy to use, that not letting the person know I liked something without it made me reconsider how much I actually liked the post in the first place.  If I liked something and wanted to show it, I forced myself to comment.  I also forced myself to comment with at least 3 words in a sentence.  Simply writing "Cool!" wasn't sufficient.  I had to add value with my comment in some way.  By limiting myself in this fashion, my commenting became less frequent but was more insightful as to how I actually felt.  It was like providing color to the monochromatic pallet of like.  I now understand the power and (dis)advantages behind George Orwell's "newspeak" of "good, plusgood, doubleplusgood, etc.".  Merely liking something doesn't convey emotion but intention.  It  generalizes the meaning behind it and waters down enthusiasm behind truly liking something because you're not forced to comment on what you like to give context and depth. 

My Feed Got Really Really...Boring
My feed completely changed after the first few days.  The number of posts with clickbait titles went to zero ("This girl got hit by a bus.  You won't believe what happened next!").  Many of the posts from pages I've liked started popping up as the Facebook algorithm desperately wanted to know what I  responded to.  The feed is a bit random now as Facebook tries to lure me to click on like.  It's pretty awesome.

My Friends Are Lost
Since I'm in comedy, I saw everybody's posts for their shows, videos, and funny musings.  Now, I hardly see any of those since I've stopped the Like Machine.  I see a lot more posts from closer family and friends but a lot of general things as well.  It's like I have no friends on Facebook (600+ ... not braggin', just sayin'). 

It's been a pretty interesting experiment.  Starting Monday 9/22 with a 30 day like-a-thon.  I haven't decided what the terms will be exactly but I'll write another post along the way.

Friday, August 29, 2014

My Billy Corgan Ravinia Setlist (Part Three)

In my previous post, I began exploring in-depth my choices for Billy's upcoming Ravinia setlist.  I didn't win the contest to earn a meet-and-greet with him and the rest of the band, but, hey, I made a valiant effort :).  In this point we'll explore the remaining 10 songs in the list.

 Let Me Give The World To You
This Rick Rubin produced track is probably the poppiest, most radio-friendly track from the Machina II release.  It honestly should've been on Machina I.  I'd be interested in reading Corgan's reasoning behind leaving it off the record.

I consider this song a gem amongst non-album tracks because of the way it was produced.  It employs some dulled out drum tracks that brighten up mid-way through the song along with some auto-wah, some mandolins, and what at least sounds to me to be a cheap synth organ which, when added together, make the song weird and poignant to the lyrical matter.  Billy wrote this song as a tribute to the former bassist of a Chicago band called Red Red Meat who died of AIDS in the early 90's.  The track ended up on the No Alternative compilation which was produced to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic and help bring relief to those afflicted.

This song is such a rare track to be performed live that it would send the Ravinia crowd into a frenzy!

Try, Try, Try
I'm not a huge fan of this song as-is.  This was released as a single from Machina I with a disturbing video to accompany it.  I included it in the set list because it would continue the "awareness" factor that Glynis introduced before.
That's the Way My Love Is
As mentioned before, Zeitgeist was a hard record for many of us to get behind.  At the time it was released, it had largely mixed reviews.  Even I couldn't really accept it for the great album it is at the time of its release as I struggled between what the Pumpkins were at the time and what I wished they would've been.  Luckily, this song transcended that inner struggle and is one of the strongest tracks on the album.  It was released as the second and final single for Zeitgeist with a good video to accompany it.  The poppy nature of the song would bode well at Ravinia and simultaneously satisfy the yearnings of the long-term fans.

Ahhhhh, Rhinoceros... This song was released from Gish with much fanfare.  The video screams "indy" but the song screams "PUMPKINS" louder :)  This song is so old that it would pick up the vibe of the concert to be a bit more electric in response to this being played.

This song is a fan favorite regardless of tenure in the Pumpkins Militia.  The acoustic version of this wonderful song is just as powerful as the electric version so it would fit in fine at Ravinia.  Again, this would buttress the buzz built by having Rhinoceros played just before.

At this point of the setlist, it's barn burning time.  We're gonna hit the crowd with popular songs that almost everybody in attendance would know and sing along with.  Would Billy agree with this approach? Probably not.  However, I wouldn't put it past him to go against his own convictions for this event ;-).

1979 off of Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is a great song and cemented the Smashing Pumpkins as a viable force in the mid 90's with cross-over appeal.  The video is actually pretty awful to watch but, hey, I bet it was fun for those involved as it tried to capture the exuberance of youth :)
The b-side album released after Siamese Dream featured this song.  Pisces Iscariot is loved as much or more by Pumpkin fans as the albums that came before/after it.  Starla is a stand-out track from the collection as simple as the rolling main riff is.  I've heard this song done gorgeously on acoustic guitars just as many times as it's been done lacklusteredly.  My hope would be to go "balls out" on this and use as many musicians as possible to make it as "spacey" as the original recording.

I remember being 18 in a guitar store when the tab for this song came out in a magazine and thought, "Hmmm...never heard of this song.  It must suck."  Cot damn was I wrong!  Drown off Cameron Crowe's Singles sountrack is one of my favorite songs of all time.  It was definitely written in the Siamese Dream era and has a lot of similarities to Mayonaise as far as chord progressions are concerned.  However, it departs from that song majorly in that it's way "spacier" than most of their songs and has like 4 minutes of feedback at the end that I listen to every time the song plays.

Again, this is such a well known deep cut that it would continue the explosion of support from the crowd.

Tonight, Tonight
We've reached the end of the set!  What Pumpkins concert would be complete without the most over-played song of all time, Tonight Tonight?!  As usual, I'm biased against any popular A-sides.  However, it would a spectacular way to end the night.

That's it folks!  Let's see what Billy conjures up for Ravinia!

My Billy Corgan Ravinia Setlist (Part Two)

In part one of this series, I discussed the trials and tribulations I went through to become and continue being a Smashing Pumpkins fan.  I feel that all of those years of toiling in the trenches to support my favorite band gives me a unique qualification to suggest a set list for Billy Corgan to play in his upcoming Ravinia appearance this weekend. We're going to explore the first ten songs.

To Shiela
This is the first track off the Adore record. Billy used to open up shows with this acoustically and I figured this would be a fantastic choice to open up the Ravinia concert with.  It can be played acoustically and electrically as well.  If Billy wanted to start out acoustic, as his set has been advertised, then this is a great track to jump off with. He could play this solo or with the band (I'd prefer solo).

The American Gothic EP was released shortly after the Ashville, NC residencies documented in the Pumpkins DVD If All Goes Wrong featuring studio versions of songs written during that era.  This song is a meaty acoustic-based song that I felt would do well in a supportive format of Ravinia.  Lyrically, there's a lot of attitude behind it.  The band could really rawk it out but keep the vibe of a controlled storm brewing - just waiting to explode into full blown rawk - but not.  Also, this would be a hidden gem for the true b-side loving fan like myself in the crowd.

Of A Broken Heart
This track is a nice acoustic track from Corgan's post-SPv1 band Zwan's sole release Mary Star of the Sea.  I threw this song into the mix because it would showcase that era in his career.
This track from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness has always found its way into SP shows as an acoustic-only track played by Billy by himself.   Not only is it a good song sans a band but it would soothe the ravenous, bandwagon fan out there expecting to hear a popular song from their youth being played by the man himself.  At this point, he's satisfied the hardcore Corgan fan and catered a bit to the casual fan.
Bye June
As silly as the lyrics are to this song, I still love it.  Apparently this was one of Billy's many 4 track home studio recordings that got a bit of polish in a formal studio and released as-is.  It can popularly be found on the Lull EP.

Pale Horse
Oceania was well received by fans and critics both.  This song to me is a very Pumpkins song with the "Thorazine...Thorazine"/"please come back" hook in it.  I could hear a bit of Adore in this song for some reason.  It would work well acoustically and would cast a favorable light to playing the newer material well.
Widow Wake My Mind
Trying to find a song that captured the songwriting aesthetic attempting to be shown in the beginning of the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project is difficult as I still haven't embraced the songs released completely.  With that said, I felt it was important to find something reminding people what Billy was trying to do in the aftermath of carrying the Pumpkins on his sole shoulders.  The psychedelia of early Pumpkins seems to drip a bit form this song as well.  I don't know how well received this would've been at Ravinia except from those of us who are familiar with it.

This is solely on the list as it was arguably the Pumpkins' greatest hit.  This is to appease those who want the 1992-1994 Siamese Dream era to be relived for three and a half minutes in 2014.

I absolutely LOVE this song from the Aeroplane Flies High box set.  Lyrically, it's such a strong view into what women must deal with on a daily basis with their body issues.  This song works acoustically and can be carried just on lyrics, melody, and acoustic guitar.

This is, as Billy used to say in early Pumpkin shows, "an oldie but a goodie".  The formal studio version was recorded in London at the BBC as part of the John Peel Sessions.  It was also played a lot by the band both acoustically and electrically.  I like this song in the set to showcase the early days of the band.

In part III, we will explore the rest of the list :)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My Billy Corgan Ravinia Setlist (Part One)


I pride myself on being headstrong, stubborn, and perhaps a bit narcissistic on certain parts of my life.  One of those is that I can say I've been a long time Smashing Pumpkins fan (fan since 1992).  I was listening to Gish and the Lull EP when they first came out (even though I hated it all at the time). In fact, it took the Siamese Dream record to seduce me to the dark side.  Hummer is my favorite song off that record and a close contender for favorite of all time (we've got Drown, Marquis In Spades,  and Bury Me in the running as well).  The groove in the song forced me to have to go revisit Gish for which is still my favorite SP record to date.

Through the years, Billy has continued to challenge me as a fan.  Adore came out and was an awesome record even if it didn't have Jimmy Chamberlin in the fold.  The songwriting came through on that record.  Then Machina-era records were released with interesting songs and a challenging, half-finished concept attached to them for which honestly I couldn't really wrap my brain around.  I just accepted I was too dumb to appreciate Billy's brilliance in this and hopefully he would publish just the the fawk that concept really was (to this date, I still don't know what he was trying to do.  Perhaps the Machine reissue will solve that riddle for me).  The songs were much bigger and lyrically tougher to decipher than previous efforts.  Radio and MTV had turned against the band starting with Adore and stopped playing the new stuff in heavy rotation (yes, new stuff was being played but not nearly at the level Today, Disarm, or even Tonight, Tonight was).  Fans started turning against the band as well as they wanted more of 1992-94 than 1998-2000.  By 2001, being a fan of the band meant either you liked "old Pumpkins" or being a fool for liking "anything beyond Mellon Collie".
Then SPv1 broke up.  It was a good ending to an era of me dumping so much time and effort into proving to everybody I was the biggest fan (for which I wasn't).  I then watched the rise and fall of Zwan, which honestly should've been the next Pumpkins record.  Then lackluster solo releases from Billy, James (who released a solo record during the Mellon Collie era) and Jimmy were released and I even supported them by seeing them on tour.  The whole time I was yearning for a new Pumpkins record.

Pumpkins Alive!

When the Pumpkins reformed in 2007, I was very optimistic.  Yes, it wasn't the original line-up but I had already come to terms with the fact that we had a rotating rhythm section with D'Arcy Wretzky having already been fired (or left the band depending on who you ask) after the recording of Machina and Jimmy having been fired during the Mellon Collie tour thus giving me exposure to Matt Walker and Kenny Aronoff as touring drummers.  I was also quite aware of the musical contributions from D'Arcy and James on the other recordings and could live with the new album being a Billy/Jimmy record.  When Zeitgeist was released, I had a really difficult time digesting it.  Yes, it was rawk with fantastic drumming and soaring solos, but it was missing a bit of "soul"; I just chalked that up to a number of factors:
  • Billy, Jimmy, and I have aged.  We're no longer the people we were back in 2000.  Life experience and growth had occurred so we were all trying to reconcile our historical experiences of what The Smashing Pumpkins meant to us then with what was being produced now.
  • I REALLY wanted SPv1 back together to satisfy my youthful cravings.  Believe it or not, I was ok with everyone moving on with a new line-up.  I figured that if Billy and Jimmy were happy, their music would reflect it for the better.
Again, I was being challenged to accept new music along with the circumstances behind the making of it.  It took me until 2009-2010 to truly understand the brilliance of that Zeitgeist record.  I had  attended the shows where Billy's rants and antics alienated the old school "fans" as well as alienated his own bandmates at times.  The thing I respected the most was his willingness to pursue his passion.  He'd rather fall on the sword of trying something new and failing versus turning into an oldies act and capitalizing on the past.   I finally reestablished a visceral link between me and Billy as I was and still am going through the same artistic struggle as he is.  I feel a kinship with him in being hated for just trying to do art and be happy with what I'm doing.

Tears In The Ocean

When the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope and Oceania projects took shape, I had to accept my favorite drummer of all time was out of the band and replaced with a 17 year old kid.  Ouch.  Another challenge, Billy? Fine. I'll roll with it.  I accepted that Billy was a one-man-band at this point and was carrying the name on his shoulders without his right hand man.  OK.  I said to myself, "Let's see where he'll take it.  He did it well with Adore.  Perhaps he's got something even bigger than that."  The results were over-promising and under-delivery.

The Teargarden project sounded too good to be true.  Billy had spoken a lot about grandiose projects in the past so I knew when he said it'd be 44 songs released one at a time for free that the project would not be completed.  The songs weren't strong enough to stand alone or even together (except maybe Freak), but they weren't weak enough for me to totally abandon them either.  When Oceania came out, it was a very strong effort.  It was promising to listen to.  Having locked in guitarist Jeff Shroeder along with Mike Byrne on drums for quite some time and treating them with respect as full band members and allowing them to record their own parts really elevated the SP game.  The "soul" in the band had been found.  No, it wasn't SPv1 but at least there was a vehicle here for Billy to pursue his quest on rocking people with new music.   But this ride wouldn't last forever.

The Smashing Darkness

All of a sudden, SP goes dark after their extensive tour, Billy starts up Madame Zuzu's Tea Shop, gets heavily involved in getting Resistance Pro wrestling off the ground, continues work on reissuing old SP records, puts out some independent solo instrumental recordings, and makes occasional appearances here and there discussing the state of rock, the state of the SP, the state of the music industry, and the state of the state (the Alex Jones interviews are hilarious to watch).  I'm cool withe all of this.  Billy can't be SP 24/7 and needs to recharge his creative outlet.  However, it does challenge me a bit to "keep the faith" that the next Pumpkins effort is going to be good.

We then get news that Billy's working with Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee on two future SP records Monuments to an Elegy and Day for Night. AGAIN WITH A DRUMMER CHANGE BILLY?!  Ok.  Again, I'm cool with it.  I was never a big Mike Byrne fan anyway.  I felt like he butchered a lot of what Jimmy would do.  Don't get me wrong.  He's an awesome drummer and can play circles around me but I just never felt the "groove" with him.  Also, we start hearing that Jeff is the only guy left in the band other than Billy.  OK.  Fawk it.  It is what it is.  I was never a huge James fan anyway.  Billy did a fantastic job documenting the album progress on the SP website and that gives me hope that not all is lost with the Smashing Pumpkins.


So, we're now up-to-date with my fandom and are facing down the road of Billy playing a "solo-ish" set of music at Ravinia.  Billy puts out a call to everyone to write a 20 song set that we would love to see him play at Ravinia spanning his entire career.  There were no promises he would use your set if you won the contest, but I decided to submit the following songs:
  • To Sheila (Adore)
  • Pox (American Gothic E.P.)
  • Of A Broken Heart (Mary Star of The Sea)
  • Muzzle (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
  • Bye June (Lull E.P.)
  • Pale Horse (Oceania)
  • Widow Wake My Mind (Teargarden By Kaleidyscope)
  • Today (Siamese Dream)
  • Ugly (Aeroplane Flies High)
  • Smiley (John Peel Sessions/Gish era)
  • Let Me Give The World To You (Machina II)
  • Glynis (No Alternative/Siamese Dream era)
  • Try, Try, Try (Machina)
  • That's the Way My Love Is (Zeitgeist)
  • Rhinoceros (Gish)
  • Mayonaise (Siamese Dream)
  • 1979 (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)
  • Starla (Pisces Iscariot)
  • Drown (Singles soundtrack/Siamese Dream era)
  • Tonight, Tonight (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness)

I'll list out why I picked these songs in my next blog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


I've been working on editing three different video projects each shot with three HD cameras.  It takes A LOT of time and patience to make the cuts.  I'm so geeked when I get to the show I'm shooting, set them up, and know magic will be captured.  What I dread is having to share it with others because I have the capability to turn it into something more artistic and higher quality.  Why do I choose to do this to myself?

I ain't gonna lie.  I hate the work involved but love the result...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sweet And Short (or "Write Cot Damn It!")

I read a blog from improv guru Mick Napier saying:

"4. Write. For absolutely no fucking reason, write."

That's what I'm doing.  I'm horrible about setting time apart to write.  You would think that with all of the talk I do about using improv to write down sketches and make scripted work I would do this more often.  The truth is I'm afraid to write things down because the finality of it makes it subject for judgement.  I know it's not truly "final"; I can always go back and revise.  I guess the word I'm looking for is "concrete".  Once it's on paper, it means that there was true intention and thought behind what words made it from my brain into word processor into computer via the ink through the printer and onto the page.

Twitter and Facebook ahve eaten away at my ability/want to put together something long-form.  So, I'm going to allow Mick's words seep into my routine and force myself to write.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Never Cool, Ain't Awesome - The NCAA

I am an not an athlete.  I don't play football, baseball, basketball, soccer, softball, gymnastics, track & field, nor volleyball.   I don't even like watching these sports (except NASCAR....Rest In Peace #3...). I hate college sports especially.  I hate watching how amateurish their playing is (better than me but not as good as the pros).  I hate how people get so gaga stupid over these sports especially during the month of March.  So much of it doesn't do anything for betterment of man.  Yes, some people may strive to be better - be it personally, physically, or spiritually.  Yes, it's fun to live vicariously through those than can do amazing things.  I just don't think losing my mind ever time "my team" hits the field or court is something worthwhile.

I listened to this documentary piece on Bob Edward's Weekend Saturday where they featured a piece entitled Dropping the Ball: The Shady Side of Big-Time College Sports regarding the corruption of the NCAA - the collegiate body that governs most University sports.  I just watched Schooled: The Price of College Sports on Netflix that was a fantastic supplement to that radio program.  It sickened me to hear how students are being screwed by a system that was rigged to make it virtually impossible for them to achieve the compensation they originally were promised - a full ride to work towards an education.  Here are the most egregiously troublesome policies as a whole collegiate sports programs across the country employ:

  •  It's no secret these students don't get paid.  The guise however is that they do this keep the players "amatuers" all the while everyone around them is getting paid professional salaries by businesses, donors, and media outlets.  The people playing do not get a cut of any of the monies being thrown around.  There's an anecdote in the documentary where a student had to call his coach and beg him for some food otherwise he would "have to do something stupid" just to eat.  The coach bought him and his players 40 tacos; even that "act of kindness" is technically illegal under NCAA regulations.  It's considered a "gift" and thus could "sway" a player to play for the "wrong reasons".

  • Students are effectively indentured servants.  They supply labor to a University, receive no monetary compensation, and receive room & board all the while they are promised the hard work they put in will culminate in an education.  More on that in the next one.

  • Students are working anywhere from 40-60 hours a week on their sports training.  A majority of them are pretty much absent the month of March due to their sports obligations.  How can they be expected to carry a full work load of courses to work towards a degree all the while expected to be productive on the field.  I guess is they don't sleep, they can handle 12-15 hours of courses, tests, studying, and homework on top of a regular work week. 

  • Special BS courses are made for student athletes that can't handle a regular workload in order to keep them eligible for play.  These "paper courses" don't meet regularly for the term, don't have tests, and merely require a paper to be turned in at the end of the course which gets graded A or B a majority of the time.  What kind of an education is this?

  • There is a minority of students that are admitted to the college woefully under-qualified to be participating in collegiate studies.  Both pieces speak on having to tutor athletes that can't read, write, do simple math, or have the ability to pay attention for long periods of time.  All that is expected of them is to perform at their sport and bring in the money. I found this disheartening as there are probably students more qualified academically to enter college being denied entry to make room for these athletes who at the end of their run will amount to very little out in the real world.
  • Students are effectively signed to one year contracts where the sports department has final say so as to whether or not that student can return the next season.  If you don't produce, conduct yourself on the field, there's no way you can achieve off the field.
The good news is that NCAA is being challenged to FINALLY allow some concessions in the form compensation for the players.  The most awesome piece of news I heard recently is how students at Northwestern University have taken the first step to unionizing the players to collectively bargain with the NCAA & University.  At the moment, they're not out to "get paid" but rather protect themselves from the incredible demands that are placed upon them to just to keep themselves eligible for their scholarships.  Everyone is against these players from coaches to deans to fans.  The sport and money is more important to them than the welfare of the plays.  What a shame.

Watch the documentary online and let me know what you think about this. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

CNN - Conjecture, Not News

From -

"Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777 on the way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, simply vanished from the sky on March 8. In the two weeks since, the mystery of what happened to its 227 passengers and 12 crew members has set off a frenzy of speculation and conspiracy theory hatching..."


I am by no means am a resource when it comes to mass media criticism.  I don't have cable nor even terrestrial TV in my home. I stream everything and read different blogs and websites to get my news.  As a kid, I used to think having 24-hour news channels was such a cool thing.  If you want to watch the news and know what's going on, just turn it on the TV and get what you need to know within 30 minutes.  I couldn't get that with my major 3 networks. I had to wait until 5, 6 or 10 PM CT to get my news

As our society has become more and more demanding of immediacy, news channels have had to turn to different tactics to keep viewership levels up and keep people interested in coming back.  One of those is to make the mundane seem exciting regardless of the consequences.  That's exactly what CNN has done with this plane that has gone missing on the other side of the world.

CNN has done non-stop coverage of the event.  If I were in the news reporting business, this is an incredibly sexy news story; by sexy, I mean perfect - tragedy, death, destruction, human emotion, technological failure, mayhem - everything a sycophant news agency would want to report on.  I am not saying that I get off on stories like these; I am merely stating that news people do because its what the entire American news reporting infrastructure is based on.  I'm not knocking CNN for taking the story because if I were them, I would cover it.  However, I am knocking them for reporting on it for 14 days straight...

...because beyond effectively Day 2, there's nothing new to report.


Here's what we haven't known since Day 2:
  • Where the plane is.
  • Why the plan disappeared.
  • Whether or not the plane crashed.
  • If if did crash, where the flight recorders are.
  • If it didn't crash, where the plane landed.
  • Who was involve din the disappearance.
  • Whether or not government agencies involved in the search and rescue operations are sharing everything they know.  
  • Whether or not the information being gathered is accurate.
If you look at that short list of things we don't know, you would think, "Wow. There's a lot we don't know.  Let's wait to see if they find something and then report it."  Nope. Not CNN.  They've been doing the following ad naseum, 24X7:
  • Covering this story while disregarding more recent, fact-filled news such as the crisis in Crimea, earthquakes hitting California, North Korean missile launches, etc.
  • Bringing on "experts" in related fields to give their opinions on what could've, should've, would've happened given an arbitrary list of scenarios.  They basically sit on a panel to guess and speculate what could have happened.
  • Until recently, they were labeling everything as "breaking news".  I think they've started seeing enough negative reaction that today they dropped that moniker.  They still report on the place like they doing previously but now they're no longer calling it "breaking news" (it's kinda hard to call it breaking news after let's say Day 3 or 4 when they have nothing new to report).
  • Acting as if any and every piece of news is important enough to spend hours rehashing the same information .  Recently they found unidentified objects floating in the water from satellite imagery that are large enough to maybe be parts of the plane.  What they don't stress very often is the fact that the imagery is at least 2-4 days old which means the information is no longer accurate.  It's automatically asking for conjecture to be made to be acted upon.  However, CNN reports on it as if they are close to cracking the case wide open.
  • Asking a lot of rhetorical questions such as "How is it possible something so big can just....disappear?!" or "With all of the technology we have where we can send men to the moon and guide drones remotely, why is the technology on the plane so antiquated?" 
Why is CNN, which I thought was supposed to be a news network, spending an extraordinary amount of time on this?  It's not that the story doesn't deserve any time but based on my won non-scientific, anecdotal watching of the channel, they spend roughly 30-45 seconds out of every hour on a different news story but then immediately jump back to some bullsh*t plane-related story where the would've/should've/could'ves return.   What is the endgame here with CNN doing this?

I realize that all of the 24X7 American news channels are doing the same but CNN seems to be the worst.  By being so flagrant with their shoddy reporting, they've diminished any real credibility as a news organization.  They're basically the TMZ of news porn.  I don't go to TMZ to get news that matters about celebrities.  I go there to be entertained and that is exactly what CNN is doing.  Why?!!

I feel trapped now.  What am I supposed to watch and where am I supposed to get my news?  Should I just stop watching American news all together?  Are the alternatives much better?  If you've got some help in that arena, please comment below and let me know.