Go See “Virginia Woolf”, Baby

If you have any interest at all in seeing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” while it’s in Chicago, drop everything and go. You will not see the likes of the performances in that show within your lifetime. My ever-lovin’ wife and I went last night, and it was a dang treat. Kathleen Turner was perfect as the venom-spewing Martha, all the years of booze and cigarettes nearly clogging her ability to speak. It’s hard to imagine any actress from the Hollywood system–you know, the type that signs on to a Broadway show because she has a break in her schedule and really misses the restaurants in the Village–throwing herself so completely into an awful character.

Better than that was Bill Irwin, who won the Tony for his role in 2005. This morning the Tribune compared his portrayal to an “overachieving, Beckettian hamster,” and the reviewer meant it as a compliment. The clown had such control of every inch of his body, his slightest hunch displayed his years of torture living with his wife. He had such control, I watched his FOOTWORK! His FOOTWORK conveyed more emotion than most actors’ complete performances. And this was in a play where almost the entire action consisted of swilling drinks and sitting on the couch.

This isn’t a review. If you want a review, go to the Tribune or the Sun-Times. (And if you read the S-T review, explain to me why our exposure to the mundane garbage on “Jerry Springer” numbs us to the fireworks in this play.) This is an exhortation. If you want to see what theater is really capable of, buy tickets for this play and go. You won’t see anything this superb in a long time.

A Limerick from Next Week’s News

George Bush loved ol’ Berto Gonzales,
Made him Justice from Waco to Dallas,
Put him in as A.G.,
But in the midst of the fray he
Tossed him under the Capitol Mall bus.

(I know the last rhyme is a bit tenuous, but I liked the image of someone being literally thrown under a bus full of cherry-blossom time tourists. Also, the only other appropriate rhymes were “malice” and “phallus”, but I couldn’t get things to scan properly. Maybe “The Chalice from the Palace”?)

Who’s Afraid of Jerky?

In an impetuous splurge, my wife and I decided to buy tickets for “Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?” starring Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner, which is beginning its run downtown. I bought the tickets online through Ticketmaster, so after service charges and “convenience fees” that totaled ALMOST 23% OF THE TICKET PRICE **ahem** sorry for that, so,… I printed up the order so I would have a record of this marvelous extortion to write off on my taxes.

And at the bottom of the order page, an ad asked me, in ever so spritely terms and big blue letters,

“Do you like Jerky?”
“Do you have friends who like Jerky?”
“Do you like to make Money?”
Go to profit dot jerky direct dot com.

Which I found pretty funny. Who could say No to any of those questions? Not only is Jerky now a proper noun like Xerox and Kleenex, but also, apparently it’s a big treat for Mr. and Mrs. First-Nighter. You can see them now in their top hat and furs, looking ever so urbane, offering each other a stick of dried flesh in the lobby. Maybe in one of those new flavors, like Teriyaki and Cajun-style. Maybe it’s from an exotic animal, like Buffalo or Ostrich or Alligator. But whatever the taste, the elegance comes through.

Maybe I’ll bring one of those huge bags of jerky that they sell in duty-free shops to Japanese travelers and bring it down to the former Shubert Theater when we go. I’m sure they’ll let me bring it in. Carried with enough aplomb, how could I be refused?

Music Update

What’s playing, not on my iPod, but on a continuous loop in my fleshy brain that will only stop replaying by the merciful intercession of Death:

“Hell is for Children” by Pat Benatar

(Thank you, oh-so-ironic college deejays at WLUW. Wait till someone pulls this kind of crap on you when you’re 45 with a Britney Spears song.)

A Loaded Compliment

I’ve been getting so many nice responses to my blog posts. Too bad they’re all from Chinese casinos, dyslexic porn fans, and credit card companies with Tourette’s Syndrome (“talisman focus ramrod incidentally….”) But today’s was a nice comment from some blog that apparently wants to sell me airline tickets. “I believe you will have a lot of exciting times ahead in your future with the web! Congratulations!” they said, with even more excitement than a fortune cookie.

The post in question was my Paean to Phlegm. Could this be my calling? Is phlegm commentary the niche I was born to fill on the web?

And consider this possibility: spam writing might be where fortune cookies writers go after they succumb to drink and the pressures of their art. After all, how many times can one write “Success will find you in the coming year” without feeling that little twinge of regret, that gap between conception and execution, that realization that words can be inadequate tools for true expression? It’s kind of like “Barton Fink,” only on a very small scale.

An Avuncular Shout-Out

People in the greater Grand Rapids area, you are hereby advised to check out the Hibernian hotness of that great new band, THE MOLLY MAGUIRES, playing this Saturday at Dillenbeck’s Coffee House at 7 pm. (Dillenbeck‘s is located at 1059 W. Fulton, on the west side of town by John Ball Park.) Recently recovered from their St. Paddy’s festivities, the Molly Maguires will rock the house with their own songs, plus (I’m guessing) some Pogues, Black 47, and Dropkick Murphy ditties.

Why am I hotter than an Irish landlord about the Mollies? Because my nephew and godson Brandon is their guitar hero and songwriter. He’s got the chops, and not just the mutton chops.

This will be their first public performance, so get out there and shout your encouragement. You can check out the band’s myspace page here. Slainte, boyos, Slainte!

Police Invade Wrigley Field

Wow, psychedelic!Just heard on the radio that the Police–yep, 270 years of rock royalty–will be playing at Wrigley Field this July 5. How long has this been out? Seems like big news to me. Wasn’t Dave Matthews Band going to play there, then pulled out? It’s only fitting–the Cubs will be dumping enough raw sewage in the hood by that time, and won’t need any help from DMB’s tour bus.

So, here’s hoping that the Police will take some song requests to personalize their visit, as they play their hits from albums like “Outfieldos d’Amour, ” “Zambrano Mondatto” and “Regatta de Henry Blanco”:

Driven No Runs
Every Swing You Take
Hole in My Glove
Message on the Outfield Wall
So(riano) Lonely
I Can’t Stand Losing (But I Do It Anyway)
Walking in the Winning Run

No Longer a Podcast Virgin

I lost it at the Apple Store. (Well, not really, it happened by phone in my office, but I had to make the metaphor stretch a little.)

Christie Liu of Western Ontario University (home of the Fightin’ Mustangs!), specifically their grad journo program, talked with me last week about how I came to write PC Bedtime Stories, and wove it into a not-bad examination of the topic. You can find it at the link below, to Rabble Podcast Network. Associating with “rabble” must help my street cred a little, right?

Rabble Podcast Network

I’ve grown tired of this topic in recent years, as other deadly threats to the brain and health seem to emerge daily. But hey, I’m always willing to help someone on deadline. The show’s high point is an interview with Dr. Heinz Klatt, who gives the most succinct yet comprehensive definition I’ve heard of political correctness.

And for a good example of how maddeningly subjective the entire topic is, listen to the interview with Lorin McDonald, “a law student with hearing loss.” I put the description in quotes because she has very definite opinions about the proper terminology to use for those people who are hard of hearing. (Hey, I’m finally in a possibly oppressed minority! At least, I think that’s what she said.) For the life of me, I can’t follow her logic about why it’s okay to call herself “hard of hearing” but not “hearing impaired”. She says that

impaired implies that something is broken, and for those of us with a hearing loss, all it means is that we don’t have the same level of ability to hear. ..it’s not impaired, broken, needs to be fixed, it’s just that we have to approach things in a different way…

My ears are broken. Actually, I was the one to break them, specifically by decimating many of the cilia in my cochlea by constant loud music when I was young and stupid. And if there was a way I could fix them, I would walk over my mother to do it. I can’t fucking stand it, nor can I stand the ringing in my ears. And you can say I’m deef or stone-eared or have hearing nay-nays, it doesn’t effect me one crumb.

She also prefers the term “disability” to “condition…because a condition is a very negative word” and as more aging baby boomers are “acquiring this disability,” we need to treat this as just another part of life. So, a condition has more negative connotations than a disability? Do people protest for the rights of the conditioned? Jumpin’ horny toads, woman! Your hearing doesn’t work. Your ears or your nerves or your brain IS broken, as in, doesn’t function as well as it could. You should be proud that you’ve overcome it with lip-reading and hearing aids, and you don’t have to change things if you don’t want to, and you DEFINITELY should fight against discrimination, but how does the word used have any effect on the price of butter? If she “feels” the word “condition” has a negative tone, I’d say she’s imagining things and has hamhanded skills in the English language besides. Which of course, in the PC world, doesn’t disprove her argument one bit.

To listen to how quickly symptoms can morph into effects, creating a condition that might evolve into….something even more awful, listen to this clip from “Doctors Hospital of Medicine,” from the Waveland Radio Playhouse. (For a few other clips of WRP, go to this page of my website.)

A Poem for St. Paddy’s Day

From the most accomplished Gaelic poet of the past quarter century, Shane MacGowan:

The island it is silent now
But the ghosts still haunt the waves
And the torch lights up a famished man
Who fortune could not save.

Did you work upon the railroad?
Did you rid the streets of crime?
Were your dollars from the White House?
Were they from the five and dime?

Did the old songs taunt or cheer you
And did they still make you cry?
Did you count the months and years
Or did your teardrops quickly dry?

Ah, no, says he, t’was not to be
On a coffin ship I came here
And I never even got so far
That they could change my name.

Thousands are sailing
Across the western ocean
To a land of opportunity
That some of them will never see.
Fortune prevailing
Across the western ocean.
Their bellies full,
Their spirits free,
They’ll break the chains of poverty,
And they’ll dance

In Manhattan’s desert twilight,
In the death of afternoon,
We stepped hand in hand on Broadway
Like the first man on the moon,

And the blackbird broke the silence
As you whistled it so sweet,
And in Brendan Behan’s footsteps
I danced up and down the street,

Then we said goodnight to Broadway
Giving it our best regards,
Tipped our hats to Mister Cohan,
Dear old Times Square’s favorite bard

Then we raised a glass to JFK
And a dozen more besides.
When I got back to my empty room,
I suppose I must have cried.

Thousands are sailing
Again across the ocean,
Where the hand of opportunity
Draws tickets in a lottery.
Postcards were mailing
Of sky-blue skies and oceans
From rooms the daylight never sees
Where lights don’t glow on Christmas trees,
But we dance to the music
And we dance

Thousands are sailing
Across the western ocean,
Where the hand of opportunity
Draws tickets in a lottery.
Where e’er we go, we celebrate
The land that makes us refugees.
From fear of priests with empty plates
From guilt and weeping effigies
And we dance

And as captured by the BBC, at a free open air concert in Belfast three years ago,


For Love of the Fatherland

During our family vacation to Germany last summer, I grew ashamed of my ignorance of the history of World War II. I knew a few of the basics, like everyone else, but how the Nazis actually came to power and held sway over a supposedly civilized nation—that was a gap in my education that made me feel like a complete sophomore.

As the years pass, the upheaval and lasting effects of WWII become just a feature of the landscape. With the exception of the founding of Israel, I’d venture to say that the outcome and results of the war are now taken for granted. Now that East and West Germany are united, what borders are left to dispute, or grievances to fester? The major political and military issues facing us today have their roots in the Cold War and petro-politics, not the Depression and the Great War. And as more of survivors of those times grow old and die, the lessons learned in “A World At War” are lost.

No such weighty matters were in mind a few weeks ago, when I picked up the first history book I’ve read in a long time, The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard Evans. I just wanted a little background information. With so many volumes written about the era, the war and in particular about Hitler, I didn’t want to get bogged down in dates and troop movements and all the things that students of this era love to chew on. (I particularly didn’t want to read one more crappy examination into the “mind” of Uncle Adolph, such as Norman Mailer’s newest. I had high hopes for Stephen Fry’s Making History, but realized after 75 pages that it was packed with cliches, like the crazy scientist and the neer-do-well who will end up going back in time to do one good thing in his life by eliminating Hitler. So much time and ink has been wasted on that ratbag, I think, because we feel there MUST be an objective answer to why he was so evil. To believe that such extensive horror could arise merely from ambition, callousness, and mundane hate is much too frightening, like being able to make an a-bomb from things lying around the garage.)

Evans’ book is great for a layperson like me, who wants to see how the groundwork was laid for Hitler’s rise in the 50-60 years leading up to the war. And while I don’t want to get hyperbolic about it, the book described some unintentional parallels with our own political climate. America isn’t ready to turn into Nazi Germany yet, but it ain’t because we’re the land of the free and the home of the brave. It may be because our political stability and economic power haven’t forced most people to examine carefully how they want their society to run.

I apologize. I said I didn’t want to get hyperbolic, and it feels like I already have. Hard to avoid it when talking briefly about such matters. There are books and books that could be written about whether our country is headed toward real fascism or not, and I’m not the guy to write them. All I’m saying is, The Coming of the Third Reich describes a few situations and attitudes that could happen in any country. Economic uncertainty. Nostalgia for a time when the country was strong and respected, morality was unquestioned, the leader was blessed with divine insight, and a treasonous left-wing enemy was trying to bring the entire country to its knees.

(For an intriguing alternative history of America at a time when these very conditions were in the air, read Phillip Roth’s The Plot Against America.)

Probably the most fascinating and chilling phenomenon Evans describes in The Coming of the Third Reich involved the German judiciary in the teens and twenties. Feeling no particular allegiance to the Reichstag parliament, which didn’t appoint them, judges would sometimes deliver incredibly light sentences on men convicted of assassinations, murders and riots. The mitigating factor the judges would consider in these cases was whether the crime was committed “for patriotic reasons.”

Yep, you could start a riot, or assassinate a political rival, or even attempt to overthrow a provincial government, and if a sympathetic judge thought you were acting out of love of the fatherland, you might only serve a couple of months or years in prison.

Something to ponder, as more and more members of the Bush administration get hauled to the witness stand.

Patriotism may be the last refuge of a scoundrel, but sometimes it can be a handy defense.

Essay on “848”

I recorded an essay last Wednesday for WBEZ’s morning show, “848”. No telling when it will be on, but since it had something to do with bad weather and overcoats, I suspect it will be sooner than later, so if you think you heard me faintly when you were taking a shower sometime this week, you were right. And lucky. So very lucky.

Listen well, me bratties.

Small Balls

* What’s with the sidewalls on the new baseball caps this spring? Something special for the fashion designers in the audience? Enough with the stylish enhancements. Baseball uniforms ought to be lumpy, misshapen and preferably made of wool (cf., the St. Louis Browns, circa 1939). That allows the players a chance to sweat out the booze and pills from the night before.

* Can we look forward to new designs on batting helmets, too? It only took them 30 years to realize that bigger holes in the top might make the helmets a little more comfortable in the sun. I’m worried, though, that they might push for more aerodynamic structures, and the helmets will start to look like the Coneheads kind of things that Olympic lugers wear.

* Is it redundant to call them “Olympic lugers”? Or is there a semi-pro circuit I’m unaware of?

* It’s time to start a pool to predict the first time that Lou Piniella will throw a water cooler onto the field in frustration. And by that, I mean, the first time during spring training.

* FWIW, I haven’t met a single Cub fan this year who will give a stronger prediction for 2007 than sighing and saying “It’s going to be an … interesting … year.” (Discounting the usual, die-hard crap about how the Cubs are now due, and are strong enough and pure-of-heart enough to conquer Middle Earth.)

* You’ve probably heard of how the White Sox have taken sponsorship money from 7-11 stores and will start all their night games at 7:11 pm. Will that make me want to stop more at 7-11? Maybe. For starters, I’d buy a big bag of peanuts to smuggle into the park, because a 5-oz bag only costs a buck at 7-11, versus $5.75 inside Comiskey (prices approximate).

* I don’t mind the new UnderArmor ads on the outfield doors at Wrigley Field. Be realistic. How else can the team afford to pay for talent like Jacque Jones?

* Believe it or not, now you can order an offical MLB-licensed urn for your cremated ashes. What’s even funnier is the headline that Deadspin put on their post about it:

“Not A Gift You’d Give to a Tigers Pitcher”

* And finally, here’s a picture I found a few weeks ago in the bottom of a box, of outfielder Jim Northrup (a childhood hero) modelling the first ever appearance of the color orange on a Detroit Tigers uniform. While this one’s not a blight like various White Sox or Astros uniforms over the years, thirty-five years later, I still think it’s crap. Orange simply doesn’t belong on a baseball jersey, not even if the team is from Florida. Thankfully the Tigers’ home uniforms are still the classic white with the old English D.

“Recut Madness” cover art

Now that my new book has a listing at Amazon, I think I can post the cover art here without any qualms about copyright. I couldn’t be happier with the design. Doesn’t this just look like a movie book, with the cool colors and those vertical lines in the back evoking the deco design of “The Wizard of Oz”? The theme of the book is also conveyed well, with the politicians (and by extension, zealous politics) lurking in the shadows to pounce on Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Spineless Donkey. (Although I’m still trying to figure out if those things crawling beside Geo. Bush are actually face-huggers from “Alien”.)

And on the back cover, we’ll have the Flying Monkeys, all dressed up in commando gear and toting rifles.

Brian Ajhar is the artist. You can check out his portfolio here. About 10 years ago, Brian did the cover art for a book that tried to imitate the success of Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, so I knew he’d be a good choice for doing the cover here. I love it. Couldn’t be happier. Now I’m just waiting to get copies in my hot little hands.

360 Degrees of Elks

Have you ever walked by that gorgeous, out-of-place domed building at Diversey and Sheridan in Chicago? It’s the Elks National Veterans Memorial, and fittingly it looks like it belongs at Arlington National Cemetery or at some battlefield in Flanders. Good news for those who want to peek inside: At their website, the Elks have posted a 360* virtual tour of the main room and reception room. If you’re a fan of gilded, allegorical art (and who isn’t?), check it out here. Very very cool.