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Art and Culture
Edward Albee's New Play
Life in General
Donald Gavron
Sunday, 3 July 2011
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Music

For his fifth solo album, How to Become Clairvoyant (429 Records), formerBand guitarist/songwriter Robbie Robertson has assembled a group of crafty veteran musicians and savvy young players to form a memorable and almost mystical summation of a career that has spanned six decades and is a cornerstone of rock history.

Clairvoyant is admittedly Robertson's most personal record, and even though its arrival comes 13 years after the release of Contact from the Underworld of Red Boy, it was worth the wait.

In the 429 Records press materials, Robertson says the project was a "rising to the surface [of] personal experiences. I just found a comfort zone in expressing that … in a bit of a mysterious way." The genesis of the album began with Robertson and Eric Clapton exchanging musical ideas, then reuniting years later to flesh out the tracks they left incomplete. He describes the collaboration with Clapton (who co-wrote two songs with Robertson and penned another alone) as "guitars taking to each other."

"Straight Down the Line" is filled with whimsical dream-like imagery. The narrator meets an old bluesman with a walking cane who tells him "there's some tough choices to be made." Later, while taking refuge in a church with a gospel choir "singing of war and peace," he encounters a woman in a black robe who says, "I do not play no rock 'n' roll/I would not be moved to sell my soul/the demons are out tonight." A wonderful pedal steel guitar solo from Robert Randolph enhances the track.

"When the Night Was Young" is a standout about early days on the road and at New York's Hotel Chelsea with Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol. "We had dreams/when the night was young/We were believers … We could change the world/stop the war." It is a lament for a bygone era: "What is lost?/What is missing?" the narrator asks rhetorically.

"He Don't Live Here No More" is another autobiographical song about excess and change. During the '70s, Robertson admits to a lifestyle of "insanity and decadence" that he shared with his housemate and friend, film director Martin Scorsese (who directed The Last Waltz, The Band's farewell concert film, which released in 1978). "Survival was at stake," he concludes, and he abruptly changes course. Robertson's gut-string guitar solo adds an edgy texture to the track.

"This Is Where I Get Off" is the first time Robertson has broached the subject of The Band's breakup in a musical context. It is a subtle and poetic acknowledgement of the need to move on and grow, and the lack of acrimony gives the listener the feeling of two lovers parting.

"Fear of Falling" begins with a bluesy vocal by Clapton and signature keyboard work by Steve Winwood. Robertson plays off the fellow veterans so well that the song has intimations of such supergroups as Cream andBlind Faith

"Axman" is a tribute to guitar greats 
Jimi Hendrix (whom Robertson remembers as Jimi James) and the three Kings (AlbertFreddie and B.B. King). Guitarist Tom Morello of Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine fame helps to conjure up the spirits of the players being honored.

The artistic mix throughout How to Become Clairvoyant is precise and controlled. Bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Ian Thomas add a rock-solid foundation to the tracks. Robertson says he found the guitar contributions of Morello and Randolph "fascinating … both of these guys do something that I don't understand … they play a different instrument." Singers Taylor GoldsmithAngelyna Boyd and others bring a soulful texture to the undertakings. Marius de Vries (who co-produced the record with Robertson) contributes inspired keyboard layers to several tracks.

How to Become Clairvoyant is an expert blending of autobiographical songwriting and musicianship. The album washes over you like a welcome balmy night — each song has its own divine character — and is a statement of wonderment and mystery.

— By Donald Gavron

Posted by dgavron at 12:10 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 3 July 2011 12:34 PM EDT
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Sunday, 17 October 2010
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Films
The Ghost Writer (DVD)

Whatever on thinks about Roman Polanski the man certainly knows how to make compelling films. Since "Knife in the Water" (in 1962) he has been giving viewers psychological horror films that remain among the best of all time.

In "The Ghost Writer," Polanski shifts his aim at a more subtle horror -- the criminal activities of world leaders that hide behind their so-called patriotism. There are a lot of allusions in this film, some obvious (to Tony Blair, ex-Prime Minister of Great Britain) and some ironic (Adam Lang, the ex-PM, is sequestered in a hideaway that suggest Polanski's own recent incarceration in his Swiss Chalet while under house arrest in Switzerland). The thrust of the story is a memoir Lang is writing. The first ghostwriter he employs dies under mysterious circumstances (Suicide? Murder?) and another, unnamed writer (wonderfully played by Ewan McGregor) is employed to touch up the script.

Soon accusations surface regarding Lang's involvement with the CIA. The "Ghost" is now under fire to complete the heavy-handed ms. sooner than expected to capitalize on the recent events. The manuscript becomes the focal point of the film. The Ghost's room is ransacked. Lang's subordinates are not quite what they seem (even his wife falls under suspicion), and there are telling clues in the ms. and research of the former ghost that suggest Lang is guilty of the crimes he so vehemently denies.

Without revealing much more of the plot, the film follows the Ghost on his mission to find the truth. But the truth has a cost, and what is the truth anyway? Polanski seems to be asking these questions of himself in addition to the actions of the leaders who spin the truth for their own expediency.

Pierce Brosnan must be acknowledged as a fine choice for Lang. His performance is one of his best. Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson and 95-year old Eli Wallach, who is a treasure to behold, deliver other delicious acting turns. There are holes in the script (let the viewer find them) and some stilted performances (Kim Cattrall and Timothy Hutton don't seem to fit), but Polanski weaves his spider's web of deceit and betrayal like few directors can or could. This is an exercise in style and paranoia, and a pointed examination of the people who shape political events.

Posted by dgavron at 9:04 PM EDT
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Mood:  a-ok
Topic: Art and Culture

Fans of Neil Young have come to expect the unexpected. He’s reached the point in his career (and life — Young will turn 65 on Nov. 12) where it becomes hard not to retreat into the past and repeat himself. Young is not one to stand pat or back down. He’s like the prototypical gunfighter of the old west, still fast on the draw, still on top of his game.

With Le Noise (Reprise), Young once again cheats the ticking clock, changing his frame of reference with a sonic assault that is beautifully structured by producer Daniel Lanois, whose credits include works byPeter GabrielU2 and Bob Dylan.

Recorded in Lanois’ mansion in Los Angeles, Le Noise, according to the producer, "is just a man on a stool and me doing a nice job on the recording." Modesty aside, Lanois brings a palette of sonic textures to Young's compositions that enhances without burying the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer's signature guitar sound. Lanois refines but never obscures the bite in Young’s tales, enhancing the performer’s sharp-edged songs and masterful feedback.

Young’s major weapons of choice here are a hollow-body Gretsch White Falcon guitar and Lanois' custom-made electric-acoustic hybrid. Young almost but never quite disappears beneath Lanois’ tape loops, distortion and echo effects. Like a ghost haunting the mansion’s long hallways and cathedral ceilings, the overall sound is ethereal and at times eerie.

Love, loss and war are the main themes here, as the lyrics search for solid ground and stability in a world being torn apart by war and stripped away by the loss of friends (such as sideman 
Ben Keith and producer Larry Johnson). The opening track, "Walk With Me," is classic Young, a love story filled with lament and portent, an ode to lost friends and loves, a hand reaching out for comfort.

"Love and War" is one of the quietest and most powerful tracks here. "There've been songs about love/I sang songs about war/since the back streets of Toronto." Young's sentiments haven’t changed much since his days with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. War is still the wound, and love is the suture to bind it. It may be Young's most quintessential anthem on the condition of war. In the final line of the song, Young vows to continue to "Pray about love and war."

"The Hitchhiker" is an autobiographical search for wisdom after countless mistakes. "Then came paranoia/And it ran away with me," is just one of the afflictions the narrator encounters. The lyrics "I wish I was an Aztec/Or a runner in Peru/I would build such beautiful buildings/Like an Inca from Peru" are a sly reference to Young's 1982 recording Trans, the experimental album (inspired by the German group Kraftwerk) that bears the most resemblance to Le Noise, in which Young’s use of the vocoder and other electronic treatments probably drove David Geffen to label the singer "uncommercial."

The lyrics of "It’s An Angry World" hold out hope. "It's an angry world and everything is going to be all right." The same sentiment is embraced in "Someone's Going to Rescue You." The album ends with the song "Rumblin.' " The lyrics "When will I learn how to listen?/When will I learn how to feel?" bring a somber and thoughtful conclusion to a powerful album of engaging songs.

Le Noise (a play on Lanois’ surname) is a dance on the edge of a cliff, a concerto played in the heart of a hurricane, a levee valiantly holding off a tsunami. It is another successful experiment produced (along with Lanois) from the laboratory of Neil Young's mind.

— By Donald Gavron

Posted by dgavron at 8:59 PM EDT
Updated: Sunday, 17 October 2010 9:01 PM EDT
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Sunday, 12 September 2010
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
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


Straight To My Heart


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




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




Desert Rose

She's Too Good For Me


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
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
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
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.

Posted by dgavron at 2:24 PM EDT
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