This was a very mixed week. Trump dropped some bombs on Syria – to little effect, other than a temporary, minor bump in his popularity and a raise in the "fear factor" around the world – while still searching for a coherent foreign policy. Neil Gorsuch got onto the Supreme Court forever. Don Rickles died. And the TG is out of town.
So I tried to take positive, affirmative steps against despair:
First thing, I gave money to Jon Ossoff, who is trying to win Tom Price's seat in the 6th Congressional district in Georgia. His special election is April 18th – and a chance to send a big message about 2018.
I worked my ass off on WHEN I GOT OUT.
The new novel is coming along, but I have more work to do. I had to move a big section – and re-weave it into the fabric of the narrative – for the sake of the story's momentum.
I read Alison Bechdel's FUN HOME.
After enjoying the musical at the Music Center, I went right out, bought the original graphic memoir, and read it. Am I glad I saw the show before I read the book!!
First let me say that I enjoyed both. But while the musical is very good, the graphic memoir from 2006 is great: deeper, riskier, and more rewarding. And I'm sure that had I read the book beforehand, I would have watched the show thinking, "But they left out ... but they didn't explain ... etc." Instead, I enjoyed the musical on its own terms. I'm not a big graphic novel reader – my only similar experience is Art Spiegelman's MAUS, which I loved – but this "family tragicomic" is a major work. I can see why it took Bechdel seven years to write and draw it. Her "process" apparently includes setting up actual photographs as models for her drawings, reproducing childhood diaries and letters, and other careful archival, observational work.
The story of her childhood in rural Pennsylvania, her difficult relationship with her family especially her gay-closeted father who committed suicide, and her coming to terms with her own lesbianism is complex and is told in print with the intricacy and elaboration that any individual life – especially one as interesting and unusual as Alison's – deserves. The graphic novel has a density (pictures, captions, dialog) and an ability to go "non-linear" that would take eight hours to fully put on the stage.
The book is also much more literary than the show. It is steeped in books and the literary state of mind. (Books are one of the few ways that Alison and her father communicated about since they couldn't talk directly about their respective issues with their sexuality.) The memoir is filled with major references and a variety of structural devices and thematic nods to Joyce, Proust, Camus, Colette, Wilde, Fitzgerald, etc., as well as images from pop culture. A stage show could never bear the weight of all of Bechdel's intellectual "stuff."
This is also difficult material to put onstage, much less sing about in a Broadway musical. (Opera does this kind of stuff all the time.) After all, it is mainly set in the family's funeral home – the "FUN HOME" of the title – and climaxes in a suicide. But I appreciate how the creators of the musical shaped and edited the story, making it more palatable for a wide audience while maintaining the essence of Bechdel's book. Audiences all over the world are going to see this musical for many, many years. Though it's a story of enormous personal turmoil including suicide, emotional abuse, child molestation, dysfunctional family life, sexual confusion, lies, and multiple betrayals, the creators managed to make the musical enjoyable, even as it treads in some very deep emotional waters. It's honest without being too honest. (The graphic novel has more lesbian sex and more about Bruce Bechdel's sex with underage boys. Bruce is less monstrous onstage than he is in the graphic novel.)
But the show is a work on its own: it's an adaptation of the book, not a reproduction of it. And through music, the musical goes places where a book simply cannot: books can't have three characters – young Alison, college-age Alison, and adult-Alison -- singing simultaneously.
One thing I like about the brilliant Bechdel is her absolute honesty. Alison dedicates the book to her mother and two brothers in this way --
"For Mom, Christian, and John – We did have a lot of fun, in spite of everything"
If you've read the book, see the musical. If you've seen the musical, read the book. Bechdel and her collaborators (composer Jeanine Tesori, book writer and lyricist Lisa Kron, and director Sam Gold) have made something of deep and lasting value – in two different media.
I guess I should read more graphic novels, right? Anyone have any suggestions?
Tony-winner Michael Cerveris on playing the difficult role of Bruce Bechdel, Alison's father
Tony-winner Judy Kuhn on playing the difficult role of Helen Bechdel, Alison's mother
Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori on writing the score
FUN HOME – at the Tony Awards – including the hit song "Ring Of Keys" -- that's the one they play most on Sirius radio's Broadway channel
FUN HOME – "Come to the Fun Home" – more cute kids
FUN HOME – "Changing My Major" – one of the best numbers we saw in LA
FUN HOME – the "Flying Away" finale – when all three Alisons get together – you can hear the sobs in the audience
FUN HOME – a "Theater Talk" interview with creators Alison Bechdel, Jeanine Tesori, and Lisa Kron by Michael Riedel and my old Sarah Lawrence buddy Susan Haskins
FUN HOME – a full "Democracy Now!" special with Amy Goodman
I mourned Don Rickles.
I loved Don Rickles' comedy. Who didn't? He was genuinely funny most of the time and a true comedy anarchist. A long time ago, before insults and "snark" became common currency, Rickles would say things that nobody else would say like his famous quip to Frank Sinatra who was ringside at a Miami nightclub – "'Make yourself comfortable, Frank -- hit someone.'"
I can't count the number of times I saw "Mr. Warmth" on TV shows – the Dean Martin roasts, Merv/Johnny/Cavett/Letterman/Mike Douglas(!) etc. – but the TG and I did see him live once. He opened up for Sinatra at the MGM Grand. This was in the mid-1990s. Rickles was good, not great. I imagine that he didn't catch fire every night. But I'm glad to have seen him.
He wasn't really a joke teller, although he could get off the occasional great one-liner:
"Eddie Fisher married to Elizabeth Taylor is like me trying to wash the Empire State Building with a bar of soap."
He played off the situation and the audience in the moment.
"I don't really tell a joke per se, I build up an attitude and it becomes a joke."
He had his standard bits – "You hockey puck!" – and he acted like an angry guy. But as he often said --
"If I were to insult people and mean it, that wouldn't be fun. There is a difference between an actual insult and just having fun."
(I think this differentiates Rickles from his rival Jack E. Leonard, whom I think was a mean sonofabitch.)
Rickles was even a decent enough actor – from a bit part in RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP ... to his failed stick-up artist Lyle Delp in two old "Dick Van Dyke Show" episodes (thanks, Bro) ... to CASINO, a movie that the TG worked on, her only project with "Marty."
He was one of the last of the Great Old Comedians.
Mark my words: Neil Gorsuch is a "cookie full of arsenic." He's on the Court to get revenge on the liberal establishment for the humiliation and disgrace of his mother Anne Gorsuch Burford, Reagan's head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who was cited for contempt of Congress in 1982 and had to resign her post.
Peggy Noonan's winning the Pulitzer Prize is like Henry Kissinger's winning the Nobel Peace Prize. But it is perfectly fitting in this "Bizarro" year.
Brian Williams is a horse's ass: doesn't he understand IRONY????
"I am guided by the beauty of our weapons."
Leonard Cohen sings "First We Take Manhattan" on Austin City Limits
At least the NBA playoffs are coming and this endless season is over.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK FOR MVP – OBVIOUSLY!!!
Here are some laughs. We can use them:
The Best of Rickles – surprising Sinatra on "The Tonight Show" -- Rickles get roasted by Scorcese and DeNiro -- on Howard Stern – on Letterman – on Carson
Rickles at Reagan's Second Inaugural
Rickles roasts Sinatra
Rickles responds at a roast
Rickles with Mr. T on the "Merv Griffin Show"