Archives for category: Writing

Mason Alexander Park and Mike Garson and band at The Sun Rose in West Hollywood, 22 October 2022.

I’m not sure how I heard about this show – something shared on Twitter, it must have been. Park plays Desire on the Netflix series The Sandman and Garson played piano for David Bowie for years. (‘72-‘74 – Aladdin Sane, Pin-Ups, Diamond Dogs, and David Live, and was a constant member from 1995’s Outside through 2013’s The Next Day.) Park has other credits to their name, but nothing I’d seen. I just know that people thought it pretty cool they’d found a trans actor to play Desire. The theme to the show was songs associated with desire and dreaming, but in general it was a cabaret with a heavy Bowie emphasis. (Park mentioned that the two of them had done whole sets of Bowie covers together – that must have been a treat.)

Most of the songs in the set were pretty well known, but opening with a deep cut from a late Bowie album (Bring Me the Disco King from 2002’s Reality) was an odd choice. But the audience seemed ready for anything. Moving from that to Space Oddity (the second time on this trip to the US I’d seen that performed – Megan Slankard covered it in her set opening for John Doe) and Oh! You Pretty Things got everyone focused.

They then moved on to other artists for a while – two songs called Desire that I’d never heard – by Meg Myers and Bob Trask, a nice version of Mr Sandman incorporating first a torch song arrangement, and concluding with a couple of verses in the style of the Chordettes’ version.

Michael Thomas Grant of the show Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist (yes, I had to look that up – I had no idea who he was, but he has a tremendous voice) joined in a cover of the Cranberries’ Zombie. (The guitarist tuned in to some amazing energy on that song – gracious but it’s good to be near good musicians when they’re in the zone.)

Keeping with the theme, the set also included pop standard Dream a Little Dream of Me, Jacques Brel’s My Death (covered by Bowie on the Ziggy Stardust tour and later on the Outside tour, when Garson was back in the fold) which Park introduced as being ‘about my sister,’ a nice little Sandman joke.

They continued with a quartet of songs from the Rocky Horror Show (which explained the young lady in the front dressed as Columbia). Garson introduced this with a story of getting a call from Richard O’Brien in ‘74, after he’d finished a Bowie tour, to play in this new production. The first night, he played the score straight, the second added some of his own flourishes, and the third had turned it into a Mike Garson score, at which point he was fired. They started with Sweet Transvestite (with Grant returning to do Brad’s lines – ‘We’ll say where we are and then go back to the car’) and moved into the show’s closing medley of Don’t Dream It – Be It, Rose Tint My World, and I’m Going Home.

The main set closed with a sweet rendition of the Kinks’ Celluloid Heroes. It was strange to be in Hollywood listening to a performance of a song about Hollywood. Even though I grew up in Los Angeles, I’m rarely here now and I felt an odd doubling of my emotional response to the tune – a combination of nostalgia and longing and infinite presence all at once.

The audience clamored for more – a slightly ramshackle version of T. Rex’s Cosmic Dancer, which the bassist didn’t know, but the guitarist showed him the tabs and he picked it right up. Jazz musicians don’t mess around. I had to go after that having not paid enough for parking to stay longer, but I think they kept going – somewhere in the set there was a song from Hedwig and the Angry Inch and I think they were considering doing another, but I was well satisfied with almost two hours of excellent music. I recommend this bunch highly.

Victoria Aveyard – Red Queen – Enjoyable YA (sort of) fantasy. A bit dystopian, I really liked how Aveyard set up the opposing factions. However much I was satisfied with the ending, I’m not driven to pick up the next ones in the series.

Marcus Alexander Hart – Alexa vs. The Afterlife – Ah. Alexa vs. The Merry Menace makes a lot more sense now. Former child star now slightly alcoholic punk discovers magical powers with the help of a couple of interesting undead folks. Very amusing.

Paul Verlaine – Poems of Paul Verlaine – Having passed by Verlaine’s birthplace on an overnight visit to Metz, I thought it a good time to read some of his work. Very beautiful stuff.

Cosey Fanni Tutti – Re-Sisters (audio) – Absolutely fascinating memoir/double biography, taking in the lives of medieval mystic Marjorie Kemp and modern electronic musician Delia Derbyshire. Cosey wraps their three lives together with some gorgeous insights into the nature of recording one’s life.

John Scalzi – Agent to the Stars (audio) – Another great Wil Wheaton narration. Protagonist, a Hollywood agent, is roped into figuring out how to negotiate first contact with gelatinous aliens. With an absolutely appropriate in context side trip into Holocaust territory. Beautifully done.

Marcus Alexander Hart – Alexis vs. The Merry Menace – Fantasy/Detective/Weird – Very amusing novella – former child star accompanied by a couple of ghosts solves mysteries. This one involves Santa and Krampus. Very amusing. I think one is supposed to read Alexis vs. The Afterlife first.

Bel Kaufman – Up the Down Staircase (audiobook) – Memoir – Interesting and poignant collection of interwoven stories of the author’s first year as a substitute teacher in New York. Really good. The narrator handles a lot of different voices very well

Jane Austen – Persuasion (audiobook) – Fiction – I wanted to read/listen after seeing the latest film version. After mentioning to my mom that I’d seen it, she forwarded an article detailing a very pertinent detail that the Netflix version leaves out: The fact that the novel takes place in that break in the Napoleonic wars when Napoleon was in exile and armed forces had come home and just before they’re all called up again. I chose a multi-actor reading on Librivox that was good, but not fantastic. I think a more focused single-reader version might have been better.

Dorothy L. Sayers – Whose Body – Detective Fiction – I wanted to enjoy this more than I did. However, being the first in its series (Lord Peter Wimsey) and possibly Sayers’ first novel, I can forgive a lot. There was a warning in the introduction of antisemitism. Yes, there are antisemitic characters, and one of the victims is indeed Jewish, but I think Sayers handled these things with sufficient panache.

Christopher Isherwood – Christopher and His Kind – Memoir – This was fascinating. I mostly know Isherwood through A Single Man (first the excellent movie with Colin Firth, then the novel) and Cabaret (just the movie). In this memoir, composed in the 70s, Isherwood recounts the late 20s and early 30s, including the period in Berlin, but also travels through Europe with his lover Heinz (trying admirably, but failing, to get him a visa to escape conscription into the German army at the beginning of the Nazi era), the US, and China. The ‘Kind’ of the title refers to comrades/compatriots/lovers (in a few cases) Stephen Spender, WH Auden, EM Forster among others. Paul Bowles is namechecked as the source for Sally Bowles’ last name. Virginia Woolf puts in an appearance (some of Isherwood’s early work was published by the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press), as do several others. Fascinating stuff.

Currently reading Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (slowly) and The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (much more quickly).

Arkady Martine – A Memory Called Empire (reread) – SF

Arkady Martine – A Desolation Called Peace – SF – These two books are *so* good. The setting is brilliant, the cultures are multifaceted, and the love story makes my heart go pitterthump.

Italo Calvino – Invisible Cities – It’s Calvino. There are no other categories. Very beautiful. I can also recommend the album of the same title by Winged Victory for the Sullen, the soundtrack to a multimedia performance in Manchester.

That I have hoisted my sail to all the winds – it’s the plan I always had – to get to the sea, to get to the sky and to get away from all this. But the sails on this boat, and my will, should be just enough with fuel and muscle and a little cash to get away.

But who has fuel any more, who has cash. Muscle is no problem, but fuel and cash for the journey – hoisting the sail isn’t done by will alone but by planning and backing and bribing and scheming. 

All the compromises that make up a life, that make up the journey from mama’s teat to the last breath, the last swallow, the last look – surely my bootstraps. But no, there is no individual initiative, no matter what the history books say. You do the work and you get the blisters and someone always looks at you and says, ‘No, you’ll always be Thing X, no matter how many Things Y you think you can achieve. Unless I give the nod, unless I say the word, all your initiative, all the sacks and rope, all the lumber you can carry, all the nails you can bend – all those things are mine alone.’ 

And so I hoist and hoist for some other bastard, who is obviously more legitimate than me – he can show titles going back centuries and all I have is a birth certificate with empty spaces and a few coins and skills all the aristocracy together couldn’t muster – skills developed one by one over decades of putting all the pieces together and putting all those pieces to work and even the overseers can’t budge me, now matter their job descriptions and sidearms and so, I go down to the shipyard, survey the work of the other hands, the gleaming hulls, paid for by who knows what, and I look at all the ships, all lined up and I look at the guard towers and the gunners guarding the ships of the wealthy and the ships of the government and wonder if all my ingenuity, all my work, all my skill will get me past them.