Monday, November 21, 2011

theater isn't rock and roll

But I grew up believing it could be close.

I’ve been reflecting the last few days, something I always find myself doing this time of year when the night comes down fast, before the day properly ends and you’re inside in the lamplight with your wife and your thoughts and the cat and you know the year is coming to a close and you know you’re not going to get everything done before the holidays hijack the little time you have, but somehow you also know it’s all right and things are going to be things at the end of the day and it all balances out in some scale somewhere, so just sit back and be grateful that you're here and you've got what you've got and there might be some more time tomorrow.

Theater isn’t rock and roll, but I used to act like it should be, it could be if we could just figure it out, if we stopped caring so much about beauty and subtlety, if we could just be a lot funnier and faster and speak much, much more directly to our audience and our world.

A lot of the blame for this adolescent faith that I could transform Aristotle into AC/DC with just the right alchemical formula I lay directly at the feet of Sam Shepard.

Remember young Sam?

Cowboy-booted, squint-eyed, good-looking young rebel staring out at you from the back of those early collections.  And the plays, man.  Cowboy Mouth?  Suicide in B Flat?  Fucking  Tooth of Crime?

Tooth of Crime, the name is pure rock and roll.

And Cowboy Mouth written with Patti Smith, an actual rock and roll star.

Add to it Shepard was a drummer, then power forward to the masterworks of Buried Child, True West and Fool for Love and you’re standing in a serious rock and roll/great art nexus where it seems possible to be deep as hell and dangerous at the exact same time.

But then Sam lost interest, of course.  Started making movies, making money and spending quality time with Jessica Lange.  And given the choice, hard to blame the man.

Jessica Lange, kids.  Hollywood.

Godspeed, young rebel/poet.  Enjoy the sunshine.

What’s not at the feet of Shepard you can evenly divide up between David Mamet and Steppenwolf out in Chicago.  Mamet for the pitch-perfect profanity he effortlessly spun in the early days and Steppenwolf for acting like a bunch of rock stars and of course, for naming themselves after a great rock and roll band.

I know they named themselves after the Hesse book, but come on.  It had to be in the back of their minds somewhere.

So there we are in the haze of the late ‘70s, not even aware that the early ’80s are about to come down like some toxic cloud spreading Reagan/Thatcher, AIDs and crack and shoulder pads across the landscape and into our bloodstreams, and our boy is thinking about a life in the theater.

Because it’s going to be so bad-ass.

Theater, man.  Trust.

And exactly how I equated doing Pippin in high school with Live at Budokan, I can’t honestly explain.

But I carried my conviction through college and even for a year of grad school in Dallas and then a couple of years in L.A. and then my bride and I hit Rat City Itself, August 1990 and it’s time to rock and roll.

And it actually started happening in a very punk rock way.

Back then, you didn’t do your work in theaters.  Not because you were too cool, but because they didn’t invite you into the theaters.  It was a pretty closed shop.  Still is, of course, but when you’re in your late twenties and you have all these crazy ideas and even crazier scripts and somehow even crazier friends, they don’t let you play on their stages.  You had to spend weeks trying to get a meeting and this was at the little bitty places.   Probably exactly the same now, but everyone’s youth is the One and Only True Story, even if everyone’s youth is 95% the same as everyone else’s.

So we all ended up on the Lower East Side.  Mostly centered around Stanton and Ludlow, with a few satellites west and a very few a few blocks north.

And we’re literally playing in basements and back rooms.  And we’re doing all new stuff and we’re starting the shows at 10:30 and later and for some reason people are showing up

And it feels like rock and roll.

This is turning into a much longer thing than I thought it would be, so I’m going to break it up and end here for now.

More to come, the best part, when our hero realizes the error of his ways and the foolishness of his boyhood dream.

It turns out fine, don’t worry.

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