Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Every middle child's being sent into the wild, like a dingo finding wombats finding wombats being assholes."

And now, more about the music.

Elvisbride (l to r): Matt Test, Tom Vale, Taylor Bibat, Casey Cunningham and Troy Martin.

The backstory of Elvisbride is far too intricate to be conveyed by an outsider to the world they're creating, and while I am an epic fan, I am most certainly an outsider. I'll let one of their number fill you in.

The band began as a play:

Last winter, my friend Jayita Bhattacharya and I wrote a piece for the Curious Theatre Branch's Rhinoceros Theatre festival, compromisingly titled ElvisBride: Some Prepared Notes to Clarify the Impending Jubilation. It was a widely ambitious mix of surreal kitchen sink dialog, Robert Ashley drone opera, video monologing, and live music. To quote The Hunchback Variations, "our collaboration was doomed." My apartment had just flooded out, leaving me transient for the bulk of the rehearsal/writing process, and Jayita broke her leg opening night. Needless to say, there was slight tinge of albatrossity to the project.

Luckily we had compiled, mostly through begging, strong arming, and tantrum throwing, a tremendously talented team of performers, musicians, and tech folks who were game for whatever dumbass thing we threw at them. That's the extent of both my sucking up and alliterating, but you get the point. Beau O'Reilly, the curator of Rhino, asked us to perform a few songs at the Viaduct theatre to promote the show, and in a castoff-turned-fortuitous moment, my friend Michael Martin suggested we become a band. He claims we still owe him a quarter for taking him up on it.

After a couple week post show cooling off period, I proposed the idea to the group, because nothing entices veteran performers quite like the prospect of an unending rehearsal process with no fixed goal and only a vague notion of what the hell you're doing. And that's basically what starting a band is. But its also totally awesome, because you're in a band, and who doesn't want to be in a band? Almost everyone from the show said yes. I'm still shocked.

We've spent a lot of time since then stumbling around, rehearsing, playing gigs when we weren't quite ready, rehearsing some more, writing more, playing more, playing better, figuring out a balance between the theatricality and musicality, playing really well, casually swearing, coordinating our outfits, buying matching sweat bands. The stuff you do when you're in a band. The important stuff.

-Matt Test, ElvisBride
We of the Ruckus stumbled upon Elvisbride rather fortuitously, having performed on opposing nights of this year's Et Cetera festival (thanks a bunch, The Mill!) We were all hooked right away, and I think you will be, too. This is a remarkably talented bunch, and they've found a pretty fascinating blend of gothic folk and theatricality that is unlike anything else I've seen. They all have some serious game musically, are entertaining as hell to watch, play a slew of instruments, and have really rockin' sweatbands. It's a truly unique sound, paired with lyrics that veer from comic to terrifying and explore subjects as diverse as the malevolent spirits of otters and self-cannibalism.

They also have the distinction of being far-and-away the largest band that'll be playing in TELL IT. They might all fit on our little platform... but I have no idea where the cello and the saw are going to go.

Catch Elvisbride all over Chicago, all the time -- bars, theaters, coffee shops, rooftops, etc -- but if you want to see them work the banjo into a Flaming Lips tune, you'll have to see them in TELL IT & SPEAK IT & THINK IT & BREATHE IT. They'll be going on Tuesday October 27th and Tuesday November 3rd. Tickets here.

Oh, and for the curious: here's a preview of the-play-that-begot-the-band:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Not A Music Person...

Okay, here is the uncomfortable truth. I have avoided this reveal my entire life. My world, until now, has been a series of lies covering up lies in order to block anyone from finding out this unthinkable horror that I am about to divulge. Can your heart handle the reality that I am about to expose? You asked for it…

I am not a “music person”.

Not one bit.

See, with music, I cannot help but feel like there is something that I’m missing out on. I always feel as if I am the one in the room who “doesn’t get it”. When faced with the challenge of this production, sheer terror swam over me. The panic of impending judgment lingered in my fingers, and I almost decided to not even submit an entry.

Then, I remembered a song. The first time that I heard “Tea for the Tillerman,” by Cat Stevens, it was as title music to one of my favorite shows, Extras. I remember listening to it over and over, consumed by its brevity, its simplicity, and most importantly, the fact that the other person in the room had no idea what it meant either.

To me, the great thing about this song is that no one can really define it. I have never found anyone who could give me a definitive answer, in person or online, as to what this song was truly about. Although the main theme is quite apparent, it has a sort of “take from it what you will” quality that I love. And, I can only hope that this was its original intention.

To me, this song represents simplicity. It characterizes the gracefulness and beauty of the basics in life. When I listen to this song, I revel in its fuss-free straightforwardness: Bring caffeine to the diligent. Feed backbreaking labor with meat. Give a carefree toast to the woman who made you cry. And, when it’s all said in done, play with the heart of a child.

I think that in today’s world, we all go through a period in life where we either choose to accept the complexities of life for what they are or to rebel against them. Neither choice is wrong and both are very specific to the person.

I chose to go down one path with this song. Some people may be right there with me. Others may think I have it all wrong. Either way, I’m going my way because, luckily, no one can prove me incorrect.

I wanted to present this song’s message of simplicity in the form of ridiculous complexity. And, I hope it is fun.

- Jessie Spear, Tell It... playwright

Older and Responsible

I still go to record stores. This is where I buy my music. Luckily, I live in a city where these places still exist. I've bought stuff online but it just doesn't feel right. Part of the pleasure derived from record (or cd) shopping is the discovery of a new band or rediscovery of an old treasure. And this, I’m sorry, can only happen while browsing through the dusty dollar bins of a record store. Lately, I’ve been buying all the shit I used to listen to when I was a teenager. Shit I had on cassette. Forgotten bands, like Madder Rose, Bettie Seveert, Pale Saints. I’ve been revisiting the music of my youth for a couple of reasons: 1) because the shit that came out of the early 90s was so incredibly good; and 2) I’ve been missing my youth.

As a kid, I was obsessed with creepy things like bugs and horror films. By my teenage years I was obsessed with AIDS and Lyme Disease. So, of course, I’d become obsessed with the dark, lovely songs of The Cure. In the summer of 1991, I was hanging out with my cousins watching some modern rock (pre-"alternative") video show on Chicago local access TV. There were videos by R.E.M., Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Depeche Mode, but it was the Cure's video for the song "Lullaby" that changed it all for me. In the video, Robert Smith is lying in bed, looking a little like Delta Burke, from Designing Women, with his chubby face all painted up. Robert is trying to fall asleep, but he is unable to because he is being tormented by his doppelganger: "The Spider Man." At some point in the video, Robert is eaten alive by a giant hairy spider. The spider mouth looked like an enormous hairy pussy. Horrifying.

In 1993, I would see the Cure. My first concert. I had to go with a cousin of mine because she was "older and responsible." And she could drive. Well, this older and responsible cousin invited like 8 or 9 of her not so responsible friends. They were all smoking dope and tripping balls. First time I'd seen that sort of thing. I, being the 15-year old dork I was, just said no to all the drugs offered to me. One of the dudes was a dealer. He was selling E or X or whatever Ecstasy was referred to as back then. I remember watching the dealer friend of my cousin sell a handful of Ecstasy to some old guy— “old” to me meant “in his 30s” —and the dealer made him take the whole fistful right then and there. I'm sure that person is dead now.

This play is about all those things that excited and scared me back then. Whenever I listen to the Cure or dive through the dollar bins at a record store, all the hopelessness and hope, the fear and desire come rushing back.

- Kristian O'Hare, TELL IT... playwright

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Do You Love Me Now?

Sung to “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by: The Crash Test Dummies.

Once there was this girl who,

Couldn’t think of anything to do for her directing scene.

And when the due date came ‘round.

She, stayed, up way too late with her ipod.

This song came on by Kim Deal the bassist from the Piiii-xieeeess

Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm

Once this girl had listened

She felt she knew much more about what Kim Deal was singing

And when she looked at the words.

She, saw, a woman in love but hurting.

What if she had killed him? Then it could get creeee peeee.

Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm

Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm

All night she dreamed of the fact

She could go much farther then that

Then when she woke up

She thought oh man the hurt woman will hold on to the body.

And then it would show that

She, was, never able to touch him.

She couldn’t quite explain it she really liked deeeaaaad guuuuy.

Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm

Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm Hmmm

Cue church choir fade out to crickets

I would like to thank the wonderful actors and director who are kicking ass on this piece and also the 90’s alterna-drone movement. You inspire so much.

Does any one else feel like wearing flannel?

- Allie Gruner, Tell It... playwright

Friday, October 16, 2009

This past August 23, I saw Pearl Jam in concert at the United Center, and as I was impersonally guided to my parking place in one of the venue’s sanctioned lots, I was reminded of one of the great lost heroes of my childhood: “Wally Green.” While I have a lived the past six years in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I grew up in the city of Chicago. My family lived in West Rogers Park and my dad owned drugstores on the Southside. Thus, I attended a lot of shows at the old Chicago Stadium. Pearl Jam is one of the only acts who I still see in an arena—the other is Bob Dylan—and being back in the vicinity of the razed Stadium brought old “Wally” to mind.

I was probably fourteen or so when I first started attending shows at the Chicago Stadium. And for whatever reason, before I understood entirely the role money plays in these sorts of things, my dad was able to get me ridiculously great concert tickets to the Stadium because of what seemed this extraordinary connection he had there. I mean, this was when my dad was still driving me to shows. The source seemed the most unlikely guy: His name-tag said “Wally” and he waved the flags that directed us into the parking lot at the Stadium. And thanks to “Wally” (and my dad), for a couple of years, before I became obsessed with punk rock and wouldn’t step foot into an arena if Wally had paid me (except to see Dylan), when my father pulled into that lot, I could be assured that I would be sitting on the floor, in the center, right by the stage.

One particularly memorable show paired Eric Clapton with Muddy Waters. I had become a huge blues fan because of my dad’s store on the Southside, and the chance to see Muddy teach Slowhand the blues promised to be an incredible treat. My dad pulled into the parking lot; Wally called my dad, “Mr. Gordon” (his first name); and my Dad called him “Wally Green.” They exchanged money, and my dad drove around to the front to let me out. I asked my Dad how he knew that his last name was Green, and my dad, who passed away twenty years ago now, said one of those things that I can still hear him say: “You give Wally--green--and he gives you concert tickets.”

I got my tickets to the Pearl Jam concert from Ten Club, the Pearl Jam Fan Club. It was a real good show. My seats were pretty good. There were based on my seniority in the club and that seems fair. It's quite easy and convenient. But during those years, Wally Green and my dad sure seemed to make some magic happen in that parking lot outside the "Madhouse on Madison."

-- Steve Feffer

Steve Feffer's play "My Brother, the School Shooter" is a short play inspired by Pearl Jam's "Jeremy".

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"I know that you've been wandering around this town looking for a cure, but you just better shoot me down."

When we started getting ready for TELL IT..., one thing was clear to me.

IF: a play is a 'music play',
THEN: there must be both play and music.

I mean, I love plays, and I love music, and if we're going to create plays about music we had better have an awful lot of both. You've been hearing from some of the people who are bringing the former. Here's one of the latter.

Louis and the Hunt, aside from having a great name, are a really killer band. A three-piece that can go from the most delicate, lyric sound you could imagine to wall-to-wall rock and roll at the drop of a hat, they are frankly not to be trifled with. They will trick you into whistling and then steal your metaphorical lunch money. They'll make sounds so ethereal that you'll swear you've gone to church and then they'll blow the doors off. If it were appropriate to use expletives on this, our faithful blog, I would say that they will eff your ess right up.

People are drawn to different bands, singers, writers for wildly different reasons. I can be drawn in by any number of things: a great and surprising percussionist, a vocalist with a unique and effortless sound, a killer horn section, a remarkable turn of phrase or two, inventiveness in structure, a great marriage of technical skill and unabashed rock and roll abandon -- all of these things can hook me. Well, Louis and the Hunt have yet to throw trumpets my way, but otherwise that list pretty much sums it up. They've got seven or eight tracks up on their MySpace, including the brand-new and seriously lovely 'The Wolf and I', a lyric from which appears as the title for this blog-entry-thing.

It's been a busy month for these three gentlemen. This Saturday they're playing a fundraiser for Wunderkammer Magazine alongside another band, two poets and a visual artist. Apparently October is the month of multidisciplinary collaborations that involve Louis and the Hunt. They'll be playing the first Sunday and second Monday of TELL IT..., they're (I think?) recording an album, and along the way played a hell of a show at Schubas. Check it, along with a brief but really interesting interview with vocalist/songwriter Ryne Estwing:

Wunderkammer Artist Series: Louis & The Hunt from jmharper on Vimeo

I think you'll love them as much as we do. And I mean, really -- who doesn't want to see that guy sing an Elvis Costello song, a Paris Hilton song, and six or seven others in one night?

Catch Louis and the Hunt all over Chicago, all of the time -- but specifically at the side project on October 25th and November 2nd as one of three bands taking part in TELL IT & SPEAK IT & THINK IT & BREATHE IT. Go see them before they get huge and you can't afford to. Tickets here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Case of You

I am an actor, singer, painter, and a homosexual. I once was even 2 feet away from a wild moose and yet, having a play produced in Chicago is the scariest experience of my life.

When I was writing this play, I had the intention of creating this horror story about a young woman who becomes obsessed with a man with a social disorder. The story ended in the woman resorting to cannibalism to be close to him. I know, right? Well, that didn't happen.

With cannibalism on the brain I started writing. As the characters began to relate to one another, I realized that giving them a predetermined voice just wasn't working. Instead, I decided to look at the play as I do a piece of art. I let it be whatever it wanted to. Screw the story. If a plot emerges, great. If not, well at least I tried. However, when I finished I realized that the story that was created was much more interesting than anything I could of imagined. I'm proud of what I created and I hope that I have in some way honored both Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. Come see the plays. Game on!

Project PKD

Unrelated to TELL IT...

I'm embarking on a new literary project: To read the entire bibliography of Philip K. Dick in the order in which the works were written. That's 36 novels and 121 short stories. I have imposed a deadline on myself of October 10, 2010. 10.10.10 - this was unintentional.

I am a great fan of sci-fi, and PKD may be my favorite author in this or any other genre. He was no technological visionary (See: Arthur C. Clarke), but more than any other writer of speculative fiction, PKD inhabited the head space of the future - presenting a vision of mankind's forthcoming alienation, not a litany of his greatest toys.

I invite anyone interested to join me. I will be purchasing all the novels, and am happy to loan them out to careful comrades.

Don't know who PKD is? Have you seen the film Blade Runner? Minority Report? A Scanner Darkly? These are all adaptations of his work. If you're looking for a place to start, I suggest Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the novel upon which Blader Runner is based, or Ubik, a story with perhaps the most interesting premise in the storied history of the premise.
Game On. Or in this case, Read On.
Edit: Project PKD now has its own blog, Follow along as I drive myself inexorably mad...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

submitted by Bridget, one of the directors for "TellIt.."

I love that I got access to this blog directly. I am wondering how to abuse that power somehow. Maybe I will become one of those random blog spammers who posts comments about travel websites and teeth whitening packages. Maybe I will just stick to writing about the festival.

What I am really stoked about right now, other than that my apartment really IS big enough to rehearse in (I will never doubt that again), is how rehearsal went last night. The show is a silent one, so trying to draw the actors in when the script is basically telling you what to do seemed a challenge. But then we got the show on its feet last night, and a wonderful thing happened - the "script" wasn't as fleshed-out as it appeared at first glance, so without thinking the actors were filling in moments that took us from beat to beat, while the playwright sat revising things based on what was happening organically. It was rather awesome and exciting so now I am bummed that we have another week to go before the next rehearsal.

At the first read through, Annie, who plays the "Wife", brought up a really bizarre tale of a woman that murdered her husband and then sealed off the room in the house that she killed him in AND LEFT THE BODY IN THERE FOR OVER A YEAR! Incidentally, Annie knows this because she watches Oxygen. Not judging...
Here is the link to the Iowa news station with articles about her case and trial -

A creepy/weird side note is that these people have kids. So kids were living in the house where the bedroom is sealed off because it holds their dead dad and they are living with a mom that committed the murder. Can't find much info on this part of the story, just think that it is really awful and can't figure out how, if she wasn't the only one living there, why none of the kids spilled the beans that "dad's dead behind that door. we don't go in there anymore"?!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Reach out and touch faith.

It was one of those weekend evenings when I happened to be at the office downtown for work. I don't remember exactly what I was doing at work that Sunday (was it a Sunday?), but I do remember vividly the trip home on the Red Line. In typical Sunday CTA fashion, I had been waiting longer than I'd like to have for the northbound train at the State/Lake subway platform. In a not-so-typical fashion, when the train arrived I got one of those seats I love: a single facing sideways so you don't have to pretend you're skinnier than you are to share a seat when you were just trying to get home at the end of a seven day work week.

As I pulled out my book--What is the What was it?--i noticed almost immediately the woman across from me: a pleasant looking woman of Asian descent in a red t-shirt, sitting in CTA's version of a love seat, facing forward. As any metropolitan-ite will tell you, after a month or so riding public transit you've pretty much seen everything. Having been a faithful Red Liner for going on four years, this is doubly the case. Being a not-so-typical Sunday afternoon, however, what this woman was doing captivated the hell out of me.

I let my book rest on my lap as I watched this person diligently learn the prayers of the rosary. With a brand-new set of prayer beads and a shiny new prayer pamphlet, she memorized portions of the prayer, quizzed herself, put the pamphlet away to practice and started all over again. This women's newfound sense of faith, or perhaps newfound sense of Catholicism really perked up the atheist in me.

I don't know if the upcoming "music plays" (as we called them at the time) for The Ruckus were in my mind at that point or not, but Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" began to play as if it had replaced the announcements everyone has memorized booming from the train's loud speaker.

I didn't write my short play based on that song and commute until several weeks later. This was my first foray into the world of playwriting. It scared the shit out of me. I like the end result. Come see Tell It & Speak It & Think It & Breathe It Let me know what you think.