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Art and Culture
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Donald Gavron
Sunday, 12 September 2010
TALES FROM THE VINEGAR WASTELAND
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Writing
Ray Fracalossy’s “Tales From The Vinegar Wasteland” is a strange and wonderful book with a surreal/absurdist sensibility akin to a painting by Magritte. Many other comparisons come to mind — J.G. Ballard, Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. are all kindred spirits to this dream-like tome that explores (in a semi-serious, serio-comic manner) life and death, destiny and the presence of (or lack of) God. There is a subtle wit that leaps off every page and the book has a rhythm that draws the reader into a rabbit hole that leads to many bizarre and imaginative situations that have the fabric of believability.

Fracalossy is a self-described writer of absurdist fiction, and this short novel (and the delightful stories that complement that novel) is best experienced on one’s own. The reader will find his/her own wicked bits of wordplay to mull over like moments from a dream. The dream-state is a necessary part of the razor thin plot and there are passages that lead back into themselves, like an Escher staircase. And yes, I did find the typo alluded to in the beginning of the book.

The unnamed narrator is living a quiet life of desperation. He buys fake fruit (because it lasts longer) and makes tea with a bag that turns into a spider and begins to crawl up the string. The reader encounters his various friends and acquaintances: Anton, a man whose face is disappearing, Gregory, who has an apartment with a room that doesn’t exist, a neighbor who keeps screaming, and Margaret, a woman the narrator pursues who may or may not make the best sandwiches in the world.

My favorite scenes/images include: the armless men flying kites in the park, a woman taking her egg for a walk and the Library of Incoming Books (which contains blank books that writers are encouraged to fill).

Another character that plays a recurring role in the novel is Rudolph Ransom, who has written a book called “What You’ll Never Finish,” which no one has ever finished. Ransom is deceased, but that doesn’t stop him from interacting with the protagonist.

The chapters have weirdly comic titles like “My Head is a Paintbrush” and “Buddha’s Uphill Bicycle Race.” One that stands out to me as central to the narrative is “Chapter 39 Minutes.” Here dreams merge with dreams and with reality to induce a heightened paranoia. “I was certain I had sunken into total madness,” the narrator intones. He also observes: “Yes, I decided, perhaps I am simply dreaming. That would explain much of this. But what does one do when finding himself awake within a dream? How do you awaken with absolute certainty, knowing the dream has ended.” Indeed, this book (published in 2006) could best describe the recent film “Inception” by Christopher Nolan. It’s life and Fracalossy’s world imitating and prophesizing art, like a section from the novel. Pirandello would be proud.

“Life was a slow mad torture,” “Chapter Nearly Invisible” declares, “never making sense, never connecting any dots, never showing any great sense of rhyme or reason. It could easily fit the bill for Hell … What was the point of all this? What’s the meaning of life and death?” This is everyman’s existential dilemma (the everyman compelled to self-examination, that is).

Everything comes to a conclusion that brings the narrator a modicum of solace, but what that solace entails is for the individual reader’s interpretation. Ray Fracalossy’s book is a wonderment, a tightrope walk, a grain of sand in the brain, a trip into a dream-state that grips the reader like a strait-jacket.

Posted by dgavron at 7:32 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 12 September 2010 7:34 PM EDT
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Sunday, 1 August 2010
STING & RPCO CONDUCT FABULOUS CONCERT AT BETHEL WOODS
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Art and Culture

Sting with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra

 

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel, NY

Friday, July 30, 2010

 

Sting’s quest to reinvent himself reached new heights in an invigorating concert Friday evening at Bethel Woods. Backed by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, he presented a 24-song set in a relaxed and balmy open-air concert that was intimate and compelling.

Sting looked and sounded great (wearing a black dress jacket, vest, and white dress shirt), and his current tour has brought him about as far away from his successful reunion with The Police (in ’07 and ’08) as one can get without switching galaxies. Although The Police catalog of hits were well-represented with five songs, the accent was on both popular and less familiar works from Sting’s 25-year solo career. 

The 45-piece orchestra (“This is the biggest band I’ve ever played with,” Sting said during the introductions) was a wise choice since the violins, cellos, flutes and horns gave depth and texture to “Englishman in New York,” “Fields of Gold” and “A Thousand Years,” among many others. The orchestral arrangements (conducted by Steven Mercurio) were supported (but not underwhelmed) by Sting regulars like Dominic Miller (on acoustic and electric guitar), who pulled out all the stops on hard-rocking tunes like “Next to You” and “King of Pain”; and vocalist Jo Lawry — who offered up a stirring duet with Sting on “Whenever I Say Your Name,” from “Sacred Love,” Sting’s most recent record (2003) of new material. Ira Coleman played electric and upright bass and Cerys Green added clarinet solos on “Mad About You” and “Englishman in New York.” Rhani Krija and David Cossin played a variety of percussion instruments and were particularly effective during a rousing rendition of “Desert Rose.”

 “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” opened the concert and stirred up the near-sellout crowd. The violins and cellos adding a richness and density to The Police classic “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.”

Another highlight was a slow and lush “Every Breath You Take,” (a dual Grammy-winner for The Police in 1984) which seemed to obfuscate the original possessive/paranoid tone of the song, only to give it a more ominous feel.

“Moon Over Bourbon Street,” was given a theatrical Halloween night treatment, with Sting relating how a walk in New Orleans and a call from Mel Brooks (asking the singer to appear in a film called “Dracula Sucks” — “Which was never made,” Sting flippantly stated) inspired his tale of a vampire seeking love. The Stage was lit in blue light except for Sting, who wore a long-tailed Victorian jacket for effect. Over the stage three cube-shaped projector screens rotated and played video of a full moon and clips from F.W. Murnau’s classic horror film “Nosferatu.” The cubes were omnipresent during the concert, adding images by Lillian Bassman, Michel Gondry and Antoine Catala to the numbers. The stage design (by artistic director Robert Molnar) was spare and modernist in a Bauhaus-influenced style.

Sting has become a subtle raconteur on stage, delivering humorous anecdotes on his jobs prior to his music career (one in particular was “the worst f***ing job I ever had” — obviously, considering how things worked out) and a poignant tale about his sea-faring ancestry and late father (a milkman), who wanted his son to go to sea, which Sting interpreted as a wanting for him to do “something exciting” with his life.

One of his best stories concerned the country-tinged “I Hung My Head,” (which Sting proudly stated was covered by Johnny Cash) the origins of which began when Sting was a youngster watching westerns, especially “Bonanza.” Sting held up a DVD collection of the popular 1960s TV show, saying how he wanted to be a member of the Cartwright clan (“Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright … Sting Cartwright”).

“You Will Be My Ain True Love” was given an almost reverent treatment by Sting and Jo Lowry, but reminded everyone present of the simple beauty of the Oscar-nominated song (a duet Sting performed with Alison Krauss for the film “Cold Mountain”).

The show was anything but stuffy and serious.  There were moments when the violin section locked arms and twirled around in dance and the bassists stood up to do “the wave,” a sporting-event tradition. Sting danced and swiveled his hips during “She’s Too Good For Me” and several other up-tempo numbers. The entire atmosphere was light-hearted but not irreverent. “Fragile” (a somber classic that is fittingly remindful of each new world tragedy) was played solo by Sting on acoustic guitar as one of the encores. He closed the show with an acapella version of the intro to “I Was Brought To My Senses.”

“I was born in 1951,” Sting recounted prior to the song “Russians.” “I’m 58 — don’t do the math,” he wryly stated, his trim, youthful presence saying otherwise. By constantly challenging himself one can only surmise that the math will always contradict Sting’s passion and drive for originality. The nearly 2-1/2 hours of entertaining and diverse music produced a fabulous  and memorable evening from a consummate performer and his band.

 

Set List

 

If I Ever Lose My Faith In You

Englishman In New York

Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic

Roxanne

Straight To My Heart

Russians

Fields Of Gold

I Hung My Head

Shape Of My Heart

Why Should I Cry For You?

Whenever I Say Your Name

When We Dance

Next To You

 

 Intermission

 

A Thousand Years

Tomorrow We'll See

Moon Over Bourbon Street

End Of The Game

You Will Be My Ain True Love

All Would Envy

Mad About You

King Of Pain

Every Breath You Take

 

 Encores

 

Desert Rose

She's Too Good For Me

Fragile

I Was Brought to My Senses (acapella)

 

— Donald Gavron, July 31, 2010

 


Posted by dgavron at 12:52 PM EDT
Updated: Friday, 27 August 2010 11:55 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 6 July 2010
The Days Just Seem Shorter
Mood:  cheeky
Topic: Life in General

There's never nothing going on. That's a line from a favorite film of mine called "Peaceful Warrior," with Nick Nolte. This was also based on a book by Dan Millman. In the book (and film) Millman describes his recovery from a motorcycle accident that shattered his leg. At the time Millman was a gymnast competing for a spot in the Olympics. But the recovery was not only a physical one. With the aid of a garage mechanic/guru (Nolte) Millman learns about the value of things in life as he is guided on a spiritual quest of mind and body healing.

The days are 24 hours for everyone. What you do in those 24 hours is up to you.

92° today. It's been in the 90s for the last few days. But, as my friend Chris says, you don't have to shovel heat, so I'll take it.

Finished a story the other day. Reading, working on a novel, editing, writing articles for medleyville. If I stop to look at it my life is not too bad. There are others who have it worse, much worse. Too many things to do, too little time. 

Carpe Diem. 


Posted by dgavron at 11:31 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 6 July 2010 11:36 AM EDT
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Tuesday, 23 March 2010
Batteries Recharged
Mood:  energetic
Topic: Writing
I've had a lot of time on my hands, mixing fun and work. Compartmentalize, someone told me. I've decided to edit some old manuscripts, work on some stories and for some reason some poetry has been popping into my head. Reading T.S. Eliot has helped get me going. Finding a lot of old friends on facebook has been fun. I have to avoid distractions and concentrate on upgrading some of my graphics skills. I've also gotten out of the habit of exercising due to the harsh winter and the incessant rain. Soon it will be jogging weather and I'll be sucking wind running down the sidewalk 1.25 miles to the RR tracks and back again. Don't die with your music still in you, as Dr. Dyer says. Got to get to work now.

Posted by dgavron at 5:07 PM EDT
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Wednesday, 6 January 2010
HOLIDAY HANGOVER
Mood:  blue
Now Playing: The Year in Review

Why do we need all these "Year in Review" articles? Didn't we all live through these events, or have we forgotten and need someone else to remind us (in their own skewed fashion) what happened. Is our collective memory that bad? Well, maybe so ... Also, I'm tired of all the Top Ten Lists. Who cares, really? They just exist to create divisiveness.

Anyway, to sum up my year I watched a ton of movies, visited some museums (Tim Burton at MOMA), read far too few books, took some courses at a local Community College, wrote some stories, edited some stories, wrote next to nothing on my new novel, saw Lewis Black perform in Princeton (too funny), visited Poe's house in Philly in honor of the bicentennial of his birth, saw a great play called "Dead Ringer" at a small theater in Long Branch, saw "Waiting for Godot" with John Goodman and Bill Irwin in NYC and enjoyed the trials and tribulations of someone who is in general dissatisfied with life at this point. As Samuel Beckett says: "We go on..."


Posted by dgavron at 1:27 AM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 6 January 2010 1:48 AM EST
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Sunday, 27 September 2009
BEST SHOW ON TV
Mood:  chillin'
Now Playing: FRINGE
Topic: Art and Culture

Currently the best show on TV is FRINGE (FOX-TV) on Thursday nights. It just started it's second season and it's worth checking out. If you can rent/buy the first season on DVD then you'll be ahead of the game.

If it sounds like an X FILES rip-off you might be right, but this show has more heart and a better cast. FRINGE is a division of the FBI responsible for tracking unusual incidents that fit a certain "pattern" of abnormal activity. The shows deal with paranormal activity, psychokinesis and a lot of other big words that are splayed across the opening credits of the show. Things get weird and downright scary in some episodes as the agents track a terrorist organization known as ZFT that may be responsible for genetic manipulations in the populace. There's also a sinister corporation called Massive Dynamic helmed by none other than Leonard Nimoy (with an assist by Altered States' Blair Brown). There are a lot of references to old films and TV shows of the past that spark some homages for people with a vast history of television. The cast is wonderful. Australian actress Anna Torv leads the group as Olivia Dunham, an FBI agent who may have been experimented on in the past as a child. The only person who may know is Dr. Walter Bishop, who has just spent 17 years in a mental hospital and is now released uunder the care of his son, a globe-trotting shady entrepreneur who has been enlisted in the group under duress (or maybe it's just a good place to hide from his enemies). John Noble as Walter is a treat to watch. He's so out of touch with social norms that there's a certain naive quality to him, but his past hides a much darker side that he is trying to repress. There are a lot of skeletons in the respective closets of the main characters to explore. Lance Reddick as FBI chief Broyles is benevolent and sinister at the same time and Kirk Acevedo as Olivia's partner is a cornerstone of humanity and Olivia's right hand man until a shapeshifter took over his body. Oh yes, and that's not all ...


Posted by dgavron at 10:37 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 27 September 2009 10:56 PM EDT
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Friday, 30 May 2008
ART THAT INSPIRES
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Art and Culture
Last week I attended a fascinating show at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan. The artist Cai Guo Qiang exhibited some striking, unusual and brilliant works.

Most of his work is created using gunpowder as an element in forming his art. His politically and socially charged art follows the dictum "No destruction, no construction," a phrase lifted from the sayings of Chairman Mao.

The museum rotunda was consumed by a large structure of 8 ascending cars (white Chevy Cavaliers?) sprouting neon tubes that pulsed, representing a car being launched upward by a land mine or bomb. It was an imposing image, stretching from the bottom floor to the top — a destructive image that also was paradoxically quite stylish and beautiful.

The exhibit is over, but check out the link below for some artistically challenging, uplifting work by a major contemporary artist.

http://www.caiguoqiang.com/

Posted by dgavron at 2:24 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 6 May 2008
The Wounded Muse
Mood:  don't ask
Topic: Art and Culture
The recent article in Vanity Fair magazine about James Frey has my blood boiling. Here's a kid from a wealthy family who got his foot in the door of the publishing industry and thought he could get away with writing a fictionalized memoir. He lied about his so-called exploits. Let me say this again: He lied. And they weren't little lies. They were big ones. He lied about being in jail while his girlfriend committed suicide. He ws not in jail when this happened. He turned his back on someone who needed help.

He tried to model himself after macho writer Norman Mailer, Jack Kerouac and others, and he failed. Mailer and other writers have written fictionalized memoirs in the past, but they acknowledged that they were fiction. 

Frey claims he was led astray by agents and publishers who wanted to release the book as a "memoir" when he claimed all along it was a "novel." The people he dealt with disagree. Frey is just another bored rich kid who had nothing else to do but get high and write a "meaningful" account of recovery.

There is nothing he says that we can believe. And, oh yes, he doesn't practice the rules of grammar because he doesn't know the rules. He's not James Joyce. Joyce knew the rules and broke them.

Frey can't write, but he gets published, and now he's wallowing in all the controversy because he has a new book coming out about low-lifes in L.A. Don't patronize this hack. Whatever muse is speaking to this fraud is a corrupt one.

Buy "Tree of Smoke" by Denis Johnson instead. This guy can write. Life is short, read well.

Posted by dgavron at 9:55 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 6 May 2008 3:09 PM EDT
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Tuesday, 29 January 2008
Me, Myself & I
On Jan. 13th I attended the new Edward Albee play, "Me, Myself & I," a brilliant absurdist comedy by the world's preeminent playwright. The story concerns twin brothers and their attempt to establish their own identities and trying to over come a control-freak mother (played well by Tyne Daly). The highlight of the show is Brian Murray, as a doctor who is more of a comic observer on the bizarre proceedings. Murray is in fine form and perfectly in tune with Albee's sense of the absurd. Echoes of Pirandello and Beckett abound in this existential farce, well acted and directed. And the ending is a hoot. Recommended.

Posted by dgavron at 4:01 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 6 May 2008 3:05 PM EDT
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Underwater Photography
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Art and Culture
Here's a link to view some of the work of photography Howard Schatz. He photographs his models underwater in these photos. Some of the pieces have a dream-like quality to them. Cool stuff.

http://www.popphoto.com/gallery.aspx?section_id=50&section_prefix=featuresamer&webtrends_section=featuresamer&article_id=4706&window_id=1&gallery_id=1148&page_number=1&seq=6&cnt=81&slide=on

Posted by dgavron at 3:45 PM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008 4:06 PM EST
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