Posts Tagged ‘antony’

Performance Diary: “THE POWER OF THE HEART: a celebration of Lou Reed”

December 19, 2013

lou reed card 212.16.13 – The invitation-only tribute to Lou Reed at the Apollo Theater was a beautiful event – a classy, intimate, surprising blend of musical performances, spoken testimonials, film and audio clips, and multi-faith spiritual expression. Welcoming music came in the form of a guitar jam between Marc Ribot and Doug Wieselman. The program officially began with Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman performing the funeral prayer “El Maleh Rachamim.” Laurie Anderson opened and closed the three-hour ceremony with very personal recollections of her life with Lou. She talked movingly about his final days, his last words, his last breath, his last gesture. They had immersed themselves in Buddhist meditation, so she and her community  observed the 49-day period of practices after someone dies, according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The memorial at the Apollo took place on Day 50, which is dedicated to the liberation of the soul of the departed. And she said they’re very clear and strict about “no tears,” weeping seen to be confusing to the soul passing through the bardo.
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Accordingly, this was an evening of much celebration and laughter, emotion and sentiment but no tears. There were lively reminiscences by Lou’s sister Meryl (aka Bunny), producer Hal Wilner, Julian Schnabel, Ingrid Sischy, the Velvet Underground’s Maureen Tucker (reading a message from John Cale), and the surgeon who performed Lou’s liver transplant, Charlie Miller, who was hilarious and touching and apparently stitched up his famous patient to the beat of “Walk on the Wild Side.” Early on, Patti Smith sang “Perfect Day” accompanied on guitar by Lenny Kaye, and she took the lead for the all-hands-on-deck finale, “Sister Ray.” Emily Haines of the band Metric sang “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Debbie Harry did “White Light White Heat,” Jenni Muldaur sang “Jesus,” and the Persuasions (who opened for Lou’s first European tour) came out to croon a gorgeous a cappella rendition of “Turning Time Around.” John Zorn’s sax solo represented Lou at his most abrasive and improvisational. Philip Glass sat down at the piano and played while the rabbi sang and Hal Wilner translated the Kaddish. For me, the musical high point was Antony performing “Candy Says” to Marc Ribot’s simple acoustic guitar accompaniment – fitting for Lou’s song about transgender Warhol diva Candy Darling to be sung by a gender-queer performer who clearly understands its existential self-disgust from the inside (“Candy says I’ve come to hate my body/And all that it requires in this world”). It seemed curious to me that only the Persuasions sang a song written after 1973 — Lou made a lot of albums and wrote some good songs after Berlin, but I suppose it’s a recognition of how solid those early Velvet Underground songs were and still are.

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I would guess Hal Wilner had a hand in amassing the various amazing film clips that conjured Lou’s presence, starting with an excerpt of “Waiting for the Man” (live in concert during his dyed-blond days) and including several chunks of a very funny interview in which he talked about why he lives in New York, what he hates about Long Island, what scares him about Sweden, designing his own eyeglasses, etc. I’d forgotten that Lou was in Paul Simon’s movie One Trick Pony, but we watched the whole clip, in which Lou plays a record producer imposing egregiously bad arrangements on Simon’s character’s album. Then Simon himself came out to sing “Pale Blue Eyes.” Two radically different audio clips were also highlights of the evening – Lou as a kid singing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and then the unedited original studio demo of Lou strumming guitar and singing “Heroin,” still an astonishing song. Laurie remarked that Lou wrote his lyrics very fast, sometimes in the middle of the night, and never changed them, believing in “First thought, best thought.” Which, she admitted, she found infuriating, as someone who labored and worried over every single line.

As if the images of Lou Reed — Mr. Rock and Roll Animal, Mr. Street Hassle, Mr. Metal Machine Music — wearing a kippah at the Wailing Wall and practicing Tibetan Buddhism weren’t spiritually eclectic enough, we witnessed testimonials and demonstrations of t’ai chi from his teacher Ren GuangYi, his student, and his community. (It was fascinating to see how easily the 21 form t’ai chi moves could be adapted to the tune of “Sister Ray.”)
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A rich full occasion. I was delighted to share it with my friend Judy Mam.

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Performance diary: THE HIDDEN SKY and the Charles Ludlam films

February 23, 2010

February 20 – Some friends of Andy’s, writer-director Kate Chisholm and composer-lyricist Peter Foley, have spent the last few years developing a musical called The Hidden Sky, based on Ursula LeGuin’s short story, “The Masters.” It’s currently having a production at the Prospect Theater Company, so we went to have a look. It’s truly Off-Off-Broadway: performed in a disused church, minimal production values, amateur actors, minimal orchestration (two live musicians, everything else on tape), terrible sound, etc. And wouldn’t you know, the woman playing the lead was out sick, so another member of the cast was stepping in, with book in hand. But the musical values were respectable – the choral arrangements (by Foley) were especially lovely, and most of the cast had pretty good voices.

The main draw is the story, set in “a time other than now” but very much about now nevertheless. (It could be taking place in Afghanistan, or Iran, or Iraq, or Albany — any place where religious fanatics are trying to bring back the Stone Age.) The world is dominated by a highly religious culture that worships the sun as God…only the environment has been destroyed so God has not shone through the clouds in many years. Knowledge and thought has been banned, but an underground tribe of “seekers” continue to pursue scientific experimentation and mathematical calculation. A young woman named Ganil, who’s achieved mastery in the crude industrial culture and is engaged to be married to the son of a mucky-muck, possesses unusual aptitude for math. Despite being cautioned against this pursuit and the prospect of bodily mutilation and ostracism, egged on by a renegade from another region named Lee, Ganil focuses on numerical patterns that exist in nature, studying them to the point of neglecting other concerns. (Can you say Sunday in the Cave with Ganil?) In one of the weirder yet fascinating musical numbers I’ve encountered in the theater, she basically discovers or re-invents the Fibonacci sequence. The climactic moment of the show is when she realizes that there is a predictable, elaborate, elegant pattern that shows up in nature, and she proclaims this awesome phenomenon to be “the face of God.” Are we meant to take that seriously and agree with her? Is she truly seeking a scientific alternative to the superstition of the mainstream culture, or is she exchanging one fundamentalist faith-based system with another? Does she have no other language for something mysterious and powerful than to call it “God” and is that the show’s point? (I haven’t read LeGuin’s story, so I don’t know how much of this is original to her or shaped by the adaptors.) Is the show making a case for intelligent-design theory? I had a good juicy discussion of all this over drinks and dessert at French Roast with Andy and Allen, who are both science-fiction/fantasy geeks and enjoyed the show more than I did.

February 22 – Steven Watson had an extra ticket at the last minute to see the showing of “The Lost Films of  Charles Ludlam” (two black-and-white silent shorts left unfinished when he died in 1987)  in the “Queer/Art/Film” series at the IFC Center, hosted by filmmaker Ira Sachs and BUTT magazine editor Adam Baran. I was delighted to go, and I’m glad I went. Not that the movies are great. They’re decidedly not. It was a little like watching the dailies from an extremely low-budget student film – zero editing, bad lighting, mugging rather than acting, every shot going on 20 times longer than necessary (every shot!). But still…there was the late great Charles Ludlam, playing a bisexual convict on the lam in Museum of Wax – it’s thrilling to see his incredibly expressive face on film. And you get a glimpse of him naked on a train in The Sorrows of Dolores, a madcap takeoff on The Perils of Pauline starring Everett Quinton (above) with Ridiculous Theater stalwarts Black-Eyed Susan, Lola Pashalinski, John D. Brockmeyer, and Minette in smaller roles. (Both films would probably be better off being shown as slideshows — brief slideshows! But with some of the terrific music Peter Golub apparently whipped up at short notice for these screenings.) Everett introduced the films alongside Anthony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons fame), who selected the films for showing in the festival and gave a rambling but personal and touching talk about his introduction to the lineage of gay drag theater. The audience for this event pretty much WAS the event. Lots of familiar faces, art fags of every age and gender. It was one of those nights where New York felt like a little tiny cozy village.

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