Archive for August, 2012

Performance diary: Laura Nyro tribute at Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors

August 12, 2012

I’ve looked forward all summer to “The Triple Goddess Twilight Revue: Celebrating the Music Of Laura Nyro,” scheduled as part of Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors’ 29th Annual Roots of American Music Festival. It was a raggedy sort of family affair that opened with Nyro’s brother, Jan Nigro, performing a sort of skiffle-band arrangement of “And When I Die” with his band, the Ebony Hillbillies.

A young performer named Kate Fletcher, who does a Nyro-centered cabaret act called “One Child Born,” sat down at the piano for a fairly whitebread version of “Stoney End.” Much was made of the presence at the concert of Gil Bianchini, who is indeed the “one child born” Laura Nyro left behind when she died. He came out at the tail end of Desmond Child and Rouge’s rendition of “Eli’s Comin'” to perform a rap — let’s just say Jaz-Z needn’t lose any sleep worrying about competition from Gil-T, as he calls himself. Still, what Laura Nyro fan wouldn’t be thrilled to see the kid in person? (I met him briefly at the opening night of the Vineyard Theatre’s wonderful revue, Eli’s Comin’, directed by Diane Paulus.)

“Without Laura Nyro, there would be no Desmond Child,” the singer-songwriter-producer intoned, when his group took the stage. A little pretentious, of course — I doubt if more than ten people in the audience even knew who Desmond Child is. He and his female trio Rouge made two terrific, now-forgotten albums around 1980, before Desmond wrote and produced a bunch of hit records (most notably Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time”). I personally was thrilled to see them get up onstage and tackle a tricky non-hit song, “Beads of Sweat” with a taste of “Nowhere to Run” before moving into the better-known “Eli’s Comin’.” Felix Cavaliere — now there’s a name we haven’t heard in years! His Nyro connection is that he produced the Christmas and the Beads of Sweat album, and here he sat down at the Hammond organ and plunked out a fun version of “Blowin’ Away,” from Nyro’s first album. Clearly, this concert was barely rehearsed or sound-checked, because we couldn’t hear the singers backing up Cavaliere at all — eventually, the mike levels got straightened out, a good thing because these were some terrific singers. See above, mixed in with DC&R, Abenaa, Charlotte Crossley and Ula Hedwig (famous and beloved by cult fans as two members of the trio known as Formerly the Harlettes, Bette Midler’s back-up singers), Lesley Miller, and Toni Wine (if that name rings a bell, it’s because she’s a Brill Building-era songwriter whose credits include “A Groovy Kind of Love,” “Sugar Sugar,” and “Knock Three Times”).

I suspect a big chunk of the crowd was there because they know Laura Nyro mostly for her Gonna Take a Miracle album, re-makes of mostly Motown oldies for which she was joined by the trio Labelle. Miss Pat was nowhere to be seen, but her bandmates Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx came out to sing “I Met Him on a Sunday,” “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Monkey Time,” and “Dancin’ in the Streets.” It was painfully evident that there is no love lost between Dash and Hendryx — they mostly stood as far apart onstage as possible, and there was diva shade thrown, for those who had eyes to see.

Next up was Melba Moore, not the most obvious choice but apparently she did record some Nyro numbers early on, including “Time and Love,” which she sang here, followed by “Wedding Bell Blues.” Closing the show was someone else we haven’t heard from in a while, Melissa Manchester (below, at the curtain call hugging Gil, who’s just gotten a big lipstick kiss from Sarah Dash) but she did a good job channeling Laura, pounding the piano and singing “Save the Country” and “Stoned Soul Picnic.” On my way out of Damrosch Park, I ran into fellow fanatic Alan Filderman, who noted that the concert stuck pretty much to the upbeat hits and steered away from the slow torchy ballads. We both fondly recalled the memorial concert at the Beacon Theater in 1997, where Sandra Bernhard and Rickie Lee Jones represented that soulful extreme side of Laura Nyro with their renditions of “Lonely Women” and “Been on a Train.” I went home and watched for the first time someone’s shaky hand-held YouTube video of Nyro’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. Bette Midler gives a wonderful, touching, heartfelt testimonial to Nyro as a quintessential New York City songwriter: “And she was writing in the 1960s and 1970s, when New York City was a pit. A pit! Way worse than Cleveland ever was! Even if you couldn’t see it, she made you want to live there….”

Theater review: UNCLE VANYA at Soho Rep

August 12, 2012

My review of Sam Gold’s environmental production of Uncle Vanya has just been posted on Check it out here and let me know what you think.

I will say that I was late getting around to seeing this production (whose excellent cast includes Merritt Wever, Reed Birney, and Michael Shannon, above), and it’s a revelation. It has been extended but must close August 26. If you’re inclined to order tickets, don’t wait but go here.

In this week’s New Yorker

August 11, 2012

By far the most compelling reading in this issue is Atul Gawande’s long fascinating study of how chain restaurants manage to produce tasty food — he uses the Cheesecake Factory as his case study — and the ways in which hospitals would benefit from reproducing such systems. If you’re like me, you probably think you don’t want to know too much about what happens in restaurant kitchens, fearing the worst. But Gawande’s account surprised and impressed me — of course, it makes sense for there to be strong accountability in restaurant management, otherwise they wouldn’t stay in business. And it’s accountability in several directions — to proper health standards; to the customer; to keeping costs affordable and waste to a minimum — that the author sees as key and makes a persuasive case for. As a physician employed by a hospital himself, he acknowledges the resistance that doctors have to systematizing procedures, but he also reports on several cases where hospitals have adopted these systems successfully. His article makes me realize that we, the public, have gotten accustomed to healthcare (the scheduling, the costs, the recommendations) running for the convenience of the doctors, when it should be the other way around.

Another healthcare-related high point in the issue: James Surowiecki’s Financial Page column, “Downsizing Supersize,” a very sensible analysis of Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to limit the size of sodas for sale. Some express outrage and consider this a form of governmental micro-managing, but I have to say I support the idea 100%, and Surowiecki lays out the case superbly.

What else? Having gotten caught up in various Olympics dramas, I found Ben McGrath’s report from London to be entertaining. I have a strange ambivalence about Lena Dunham — I can’t tell if she has real talent, or just a high tolerance for self-exposure — but I read her Personal History essay on “First Love” anyway. I’m intrigued with those writers who are managing to incorporate up-to-the-minute social media in their stories — Justin Taylor’s “After Ellen” is nominally fiction, and narrated by a man, but otherwise it’s in the same category as Dunham’s piece.

Steve Coll’s profile of Imran Khan, former cricket star now running for top office in Pakistan, gives me some hope that that country can avoid falling completely under the sway of Islamist fundamentalists. And Adam Gopnik’s book review/essay, “I, Nephi,” proves that no matter how intelligently you’re willing to discuss Mormonism, there’s no way that the religion doesn’t come off as absolutely crazy-pants.

And now that Mitt Romney has named his running partner, you may want to go back and read Ryan Lizza’s recent profile of Paul Ryan — yes, he’s handsome and well-spoken, but like Romney committed to economic policies that unavoidably benefit the 1% more than the rest of us folks.

Quote of the day: DARSHAN

August 9, 2012


Thanks to Kerouac, Ginsberg and the Beats, notions of karma and dharma had become common currency, but words like moksha, bhakti, and rocana were new to me. Terms like these didn’t lend themselves to straightforward translations because they were ideas that did not have an equivalent in our limited western consciousness. One concept that did make sense was darshan: the act of divine seeing, of revelation. This was what Hindus went to the temple for: to see their god, to have him or her revealed to them. The more attention paid to a god, the more it was looked at, the greater its power, the more easily it could be seen. You went to see your god and, in doing so, you contributed to its visibility; the aura emanating from it derived in part from the power bestowed on it.

It was an easy idea to grasp because of its secular equivalent, the worship of celebrity. The more celebrities were photographed, the stronger their aura of celebrity became. I’d once seen David Beckham step off a coach at La Manga in Spain. Obviously, I’d seen photographs of him before and now the cumulative effect of having seen all those photographs was making itself felt. The flash of camera lights made him radiant, glossy, divine. I saw him in all his Beckhamness and Beckhamitude….

It is not enough to perform a god-like action. It must be seen – ideally, by the gods. I wasn’t sure of the extent to which darshan was a reciprocal idea. Of course the gods needed to be seen, but did they also like to watch? Were they spectators too? Did they look at us with all the love and awe with which we – or some of us – regarded them? If that was the case, then the earlier comparison with Beckham and celebrity was faulty. For the one thing celebrities are not free to do is to look. The sunglasses they are obliged to hide behind are the symbolic expression of the blindness to which they are condemned by always being looked at.

— Geoff Dyer, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi

RIP: Jack Fertig aka Sister Boom-Boom

August 8, 2012

I was sad to learn that Jack Fertig died Sunday August 5 of liver cancer at age 57. In recent years most engaged in his astrology practice and activism in support of queer Muslims, Jack is most famous as Sister Boom-Boom, one of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence whose public manifestations at political rallies has always been fun, inspired, and inspiring. As Sister Boom-Boom, Jack ran for mayor of San Francisco, and he became a character in Execution of Justice, Emily Mann’s play about the trial of Dan White, who murdered Harvey Milk and George Moscone. (I published the play in my Grove Press anthology Out Front: Contemporary Gay and Lesbian Plays.)

I met Jack in mufti, so to speak, at a head-shaving party in San Francisco in 1992 when I was living in California temporarily. We spent a little time together, and I found him to be a fascinating, complex intellect with a warm dry humor. He had a very straight white-collar job by day, so he had to be able to pull off that form of drag. That meant that all his elaborate tattoos and piercings had to be covered up by work shirt and trousers. He had a gigantic tattoo depicting the astrological chart of the day he got sober — how’s that for commitment to recovery?

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