After a week of brilliant sunshine and heat, Greensboro finally has a gloomy, overcast day. I love it. Teased me with rain all the way back from rehearsal in High Point. Days like this make me want to break out Songs from a Room, one of my all-time favorite albums. Truth be told, it would be my absolute all-time favorite album were it not so tonally specific. The lyrics are gorgeous, the mood playfully somber and intimate, and Leonard Cohen’s vocal delivery is so casually weary that the overall effect oscillates between an illustrated conversation and a careful confession from an old friend.
The album’s obvious standout is “Bird on a Wire,” which is truly a beautiful song, but I find that when I am called toward this album it is for the songs “You Know Who I Am,” “It Seems So Long Ago Nancy,” and “Story of Isaac.” “You Know Who I Am” seems to echo from a dark, cavernous place, and I love the chorus’s declaration that “I am the one who loves/changing from nothing to one.” “It Seems So Long Ago Nancy” was my introduction to the album – a friend of mine, Kevin Peterson, played it for me hoping to arrange the song for piano and female vocals. The arrangement never worked out, but this ballad of a doomed young woman still haunts me. And the “Story of Isaac” transforms one of the more peculiar Old Testament stories into an indictment of the Vietnam War and the so-called righteousness that results in the death of so many people. The album is most successful for me in its quietest moments and its small hopes. There’s a line in the last song, “Tonight Will Be Fine,” that I love:
I choose the rooms that I live in with care
The windows are small and the wall’s almost bare
There’s only one bed and there’s only one prayer
I listen all night for your step on the stair
I feel like I have lived in rooms such as this one my whole life.
I just finished reading Rebecca Gilman’s play Boy Gets Girl. In spite of that upbeat title, the play deals with a woman trying to hold on to the particulars of her life when a man she meets on a blind date becomes violently obsessed with her. I was trying to get some advice on how to structure my own play, and chose Ms. Gilman’s piece blindly as she had just come to speak at my grad school about her adaptation of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. And while I don’t know that I’m going to borrow in any significant way from Boy Gets Girl to apply to my own play – that would be weird – I did find myself fascinated with a technique that Ms. Gilman uses in BGG.There are 18 scenes (most of my plays are usually ten or eleven), and the protagonist (THERESA) is in all but one of them. The antagonist, however, (TONY) is only actually present in four scenes – and he never appears in Act Two at all. Yet he is incredibly present the entire time. He is represented by flowers, by letters, or he is the main topic of conversation. We see him through his effects, which are cataclysmic for Theresa. Even in the play’s subplot, involving Theresa’s interview of an aging softcore filmmaker, seems to be resonant in her reactions to the filmmaker’s conception of gender issues. This is a very neat trick that Ms. Gilman has pulled off – one that I hope to apply to my own play (and all future plays.)
One last thing: after experiencing the wonder of the viral video “Double Rainbow” and the kick-ass AutoTune rendition by The Gregory Brothers, I decided to check out more by The Gregory Brothers, including their “AutoTune the News” series and their 2009 EP, Meet the Gregory Brothers. These are some ridiculously talented folks. The “AutoTune the News” stuff is hilarious, but the EP is straightforward R&B music – and it’s terrific. I love to come across people who simultaneously make me feel supremely untalented but leave me still wanting to exalt in what they do.