Monday, August 16, 2010
i’m a terrible blogger. i should have posted the minute I left the Studio Theater that the DC production of Passing Strange KICKS ASS!
They paid us the biggest compliment they could have by making it their own sweaty, complex, funked-up, wonderfully messy, multi-layered, smart-ass, tear-jerking, wild animal of a show. And I’m not blowing my own horn by saying they were great cuz they did NOT
do “our” show at all! They did THEIR show. Within three bars of music they turned my into a mere spectator.
i’ll miss my train if I rave as hard as i’d like to about the direction, the sound, the movement, the lights, the set, the projections, the Everything.
But I have to say here that Jahi Kearse is a true artist. The brother grabbed the Narrator role by it’s collar, the role everyone (except moi) said could only be done by it’s originator,
and shook it til some new kinda funk came out. And I could not have been more thankful and appreciative. I learned more about PS by watching him than I did in my entire time doing the show. He took me to school on my own play so I gotta say Thank You Brother for that. All the back-handed compliments about how it could only work with that guy in the red shirt as Narrator have been put to rest by the dynamic Mr. Kearse. Because he is an artist, he knew it was all about making the experience real for HIM and only by doing that could he make it real for us. And now it’s up to the next brother (or sister!) to make it real again. The baton has been passed… but hold tight cuz it’s sweaty.
Last but not least, the band. I need to write a separate thing about them cuz they…ROCKED THE SHIT. I don’t know where to begin except to say they brought it, nailed it and never stopped. Like Mr. Kearse, they honored our work and expanded upon it. Or let’s say they honored our work BY expanding upon it. All i know is when the bass player pulled out a tuba and the guitar player pulled out a banjo on “The Black One” I was like “Oh, shit, these people mean bizzness.” And then I was like “SHIT, why didn’t WE do that???”
gotta make that train.
And you gotta make it to see PS at Studio Theater in DC.
Tell ‘um the fat guy in the red shirt sent you.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Monday, May 3, 2010
It starts with the artwork which is where all great records (used to) start remark the colors the light the exact LA light the cacti graffiti light and the hazy sun kissed underwaterness of a beachy silverlake afternoon and the view of downtown LA and the way the light alights upon the artist’s hair the album art starts by taking you there and tells you this is a classic LA record at once choked by mystic orange purple smog and beautifully breathing Jeff Merchant has made a record that would have changed his life had he heard it when he was 17 (which is the real reason why you do this, right?: to make records that would have changed your life?)…but they weren’t making records like this when he was 17 and it is also a quintessentially LA record cuz it sounds like the floating blue bus of time’s humid glowing lazy rhythms flowing from the desert to the sea this record took it’s time to be and time to create cuz that’s the one thing besides great Mexican food and sun-baked depression that LA always seemed to have more than enough of: Time and this epic 72 degree dream of an album has that baroque siesta “let’s take our time and do this righteously wrong” background vocal orgy psychedelic kitchen stink party kind of vibe where you can hear all the long hot days and freeways it took to make and when I spy the list of luminaries on this long player I can see all of them making their easy and uneasy ways along the 10 and the 101 and the 405 on their windows rolled down way to the session with all manner of weirdness strewn about the floor of the passenger side of their cars this record puts me somewhere I know well and its really more like an artful, sonic psychedelic documentary than anything else so tune in to radio jeff merchant and visit an LA that he both created and inhabits cuz there’s no differentiating between the city (which makes no sound) and the inside of his head (which does) and the song-music water-falling out of the headphones and though I promised myself I would not dance on the slippery slope of commenting on “standout tracks” because this is a good old fashioned record in that its beauty is in it’s wholeness, however, “eggshell” knocked me out but so did the whole record I mean it’s Merchant’s LA we just get stuck in traffic in it and hopefully with a copy of this cd in the changer. I cannot possibly list all the incredible lyrics in here not to mention the LA references which are a total joy to pick around for. Michael Rozon deserves more than a mention for his above and beyond the call of duty co-producerial and co-arranging flights of genius…
I could say a lot more but YOU NEED THIS RECORD should really be enough.
Friday, February 26, 2010
finally saw “nothing but a man” today on sundance channel and while, based on all i’d heard i was expecting to be blown away by both the film and ivan dixon’s performance (which i was, i mean HOW did this cat not turn into a superstar??? and how did the director not make another movie for 20 years???) it was Abbey Lincoln that completely knocked me out. Just floored me. I could not take my eyes off her. She seemed to be walking this unbelievably compelling tight-rope between looking like someone “acting” and yet being so real, so in the moment and so drop-dead charming that that in itself became a kind of amazingly idiosyncratic acting style all her own…if that makes any sense…it is after all 440am and I’m packing and procrastinating…i could utterly geek out on this movie…i mean watch it over and over again just to try figure out what she was doing and how she did it…never mind she is impossibly beautiful in it. I can still hear her voice…ok, i’ll go back to work.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
i’d like to thank everybody who came down to st ann’s to see “making it.”
night after night the show grew into an evermore surreal celebration of love and loss.
nobody had any idea that would happen
so the credit for the show’s success
can’t go to me and Heidi or Jeff or Jim but rather to all the artists collectively,
Mike, Marty, Joe, Brian, Dan, KJ, and Jamie,
who did their thing and just kept on doing it all week long. Credit also must go to the people who saw it
and were open enough to go there with us even when nobody knew where that murky hallway was leading.
Credit also must go to st ann’s.
I am deeply thankful to the people at st ann’s for not being afraid
of allowing the show to NOT know what it was,
thus allowing it to become it’s own thing from rehearsal to rehearsal
and from show to show.
The show was allowed the freedom to teach us what it was.
And figuring that out from night to night was some of the most
intense fun I’ve ever had in my life.
Far too often people come to see things
wanting it to be something specific, frozen, clear-cut, etc. I do this too.
But sometimes things are in the process of becoming
when you see them. And learning to appreciate art in the state of becoming is something
I’ve been working on. Because music is always in the state of becoming. So I should know this
On another topic, I was pretty stunned at how many people, despite very specific press release and website language,
who came thinking “making it” was a play. We tried really hard to send the message that this was a concert
but apparently, for better or worse, Heidi and I now have a hilariously strong rep as theater-makers, which I guess overwhelms
even our best attempts at explaining to people what they might be in for. This is
funny/weird for us cuz we still think of theater as our moonlighting job and music as our real job. Don’t get me
wrong, I am HAPPY to have more than one career, so believe me I am not hatin’ on my situation. I feel lucky as hell.
We wanna do it all. It’s just a trip sometimes being viewed as something you don’t totally feel you are. But we’re working on it.
To end, a special shout out must go to Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg. But I barely know what to shout out.
Cuz we didn’t do any shouting and not even too much talking. We did more joking around than
anything. They blew me and Heidi away. That’s all I can say.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Despite the fact that you work for the nytimes
your review was full of shit.
Not sure if you are too
but it’s not a question worth losing any sleep over.
Because yeah, we knew we were due for a hatchet job from the nyt given the long string of praise we’ve received from the paper of record going all the way back to our 1957 debut free jazz concept album
“Journalist Found at Bottom of East River.” But the glee with which you took up your ax-signment was showing a little too much: I mean when you start reviewing program notes and technical malfunctions as if they were part of the show, it’s clear you were out to get us and get us good. Well, now I’m out to get you. See below and listen up girlfriend.
“Stew and his band had just finished “Leave/Believe,” a terse, mopey number that stops cold in the middle”
The above moment you chose to open your silly review with was in fact a huge technical glitch which left both audience and artists confused. It wasn’t until after the entire show was over that we all realized what had happened. So nice of you to write about that technical malfunction as if that’s how it was intended, jerk.
”Somewhere in that hurricane Stew and Ms. Rodewald, who’d also been involved romantically, stopped dating.”
“Stopped dating?” Do you write for Tiger Beat in your spare time? I don’t think a 9 year old could listen to this show and describe our situation as having “stopped dating.” How does “going steady” sound to you?
“Their new collaboration, “Making It” — a concert, not a play — is the story of the end of their romance, though its very existence reflects their mutual professional reliance.”
Good one Jon! That was a really good sentence!
But this next one…
“That might explain the half-heartedness of this show”
Sugar-pumpkin, the show is all heart. Maybe you wanted us on the floor wailing the blues and really “meaning it” and sweating the way dem old school soul singers used to do in order to prove to you that the shit was painful? Well, we don’t roll like dat. Negro artist be sho nuff detached these days, Jonny. We don’t sweat it out fo’ y’all like we used to.
And did you ever think we might even be a lil bit ironic about the whole thing? Nah…
“staged more like a one-act Off Off Broadway play than a concert”
It wasn’t staged, Jon. We just set up in a circle. Just like we’re gonna do in your living room next week.
“isn’t quite a full exposition on curdling love.”
How the fuck would you know? Huh? How-the-fuck-would-you-know? I don’t remember any threesomes with me you and Heidi. Unless you do and that’s the cause of the bad review.
“its numbers less songs than sets of strung-together aphorisms…”
This is one of those disses that I can only take as a compliment. So aphorisms can’t be songs? God damn Jon, what else am I not allowed to do? Be fat and wear an orange jumpsuit?
“verging on trite.”
Oh Jon, you review AMERICAN IDOL shit for a living (???) and yer calling OUR SHIT verging on trite? Give me a fucking break. Reviewing pop music for a living is like being a professional pooper scooper. You have praised far shittier bands than us and we all know it.
“It’s a weak compromise between a musical experience and a theatrical one.”
You are a weak compromise between an american idol correspondent and journalist on a hatchet mission who reviews technical glitches and program notes.
What else didn’t you like about the music, Jon?
“The minimal staging — felt disproportionately constraining.”
I said the music jon…
“In the show’s program — another playlike touch —“
Jon, that wasn’t a “playlike touch.” St Anns is a theater, honey chile, and theaters make programs and then the artists write things in them that are NOT intended to be reviewed, fool. The fact that you went out of your way to review the program notes –fercrissakes- shows you were just hunting for blood. What next: my jumpsuit?
So again, back to the music…
“Coupled with the show’s shrunken size”
Shrunken from what? Heidi and I have been doing shows from before you were born on stages of all shapes and sizes.
“it all smacks of a sublimated repudiation of “Passing Strange” and its success.”
Good lord are you full of shit now. I am so proud and thankful for PS I cant even describe how its changed my life in countless beautiful ways. Making It is partly about how much it sucked to reach such heights while not being able to enjoy it fully because your relationship, which built that success, was falling apart. The most fucked up part about PS was that I really didn’t get to enjoy it. And I don’t blame PS nor its success for that.
What you don’t understand about us is that we got to do PS because of doing smaller more experimental shows like Making It. We’d been honing our craft in dive bars, art spaces, listening rooms and opening for big bands in huge places for quite a long time. St Anns is just another exceptionally amazing room we are fortunate enough to be working in.
The arrangements were there to serve the songs as we saw fit and not to please your ass.
I mean, honestly: what the fuck do you know about how we’re supposed to present our music?
“Alone, the words were often whimsical but only rarely incisive.”
And you give examples of neither so what the fuck are you talking about?
“The songs were at their best not on the crumbling relationship but on secondhand concerns: the intimacies and detachments of touring life (“Tomorrow Gone”), drugs (“Speed”) and alcohol (“Kingdom of Drink”).”
Oh lord: yer calling Touring, Drugs and Alcohol “SECONDHAND CONCERNS OF MUSICIANS?????”!!!
How could you be so ignorant of the world you get paid to write about?
You have just disqualified yourself with that pearl. Listen Jon, touring, drugs and alcohol are an integral part of …uh, actually just ask a cab driver…doesn’t the nyt have a manual for guys like you to read up on rock musicians and their strange ways? “Second-hand concerns?” Jesus.
“The encore began with “Treat-Right,” a blithe meta-song about failing to write satisfying break-up songs: revealing, but still distant.”
“Revealing, but still distant.” Just like those damn peep show dancers…if they’d just come a little closer to the window maybe I could…”
“So went the rage-filled and semiotically thick “Black Men Ski””
Rage-filled? You mean like BLACK RAGE? You sound like an early sixties news commentator talking about the Nation of Islam. Were we in the same room, Jon? Geez, I guess the big black man in the ski mask scared you. Raged filled? That song is FUNNY Jon and people laughed. White people laughed. Did I really scare you Jon? Or were you just describing me as rage filled in order to de-humanize me and put me in my inarticulate, wild, primitive place? Cuz I swear Jon, White people laughed.
“Indulgently speaking truth to power, gratuitously ignoring his failed relationship: boy, did he look comfortable.”
Jeez, we’re getting a little personal here, Jon. Which is exactly why I chose to get personal. “boy did he look comfortable.” You sound like yer on the phone gossiping to a girlfriend about her ex-asshole boyfriend you observed in a bar last night. Just say it Jon. You don’t like me. It’s ok. I’ll be hurt for 5 seconds but I can handle it.
To end Jon, I sincerely believe you walked in there to hate on us without an ounce of objectivity. That’s why your review got reviewed.
And as far as “Indulgently” speaking truth to power is concerned, the only power I’m speaking truth to is you, Jon. And you don’t have very much power at all. Because Making It will last far longer than your pointless review.
You don’t get the last word.
Monday, February 8, 2010
I really got a kick out of Stephen Roderick’s article about Heidi and me in the current issue of New York mag (sorry I don’t know how to create links so sue me), despite the inaccuracies, which I’m here to anally address. You may remember when I reviewed Stephen Holden’s review of us in the NYTimes (what is it with us and new york journalists named “Stephen.”???). So I’m continuing the practice here. The internet affords me this freakish luxury so…
they’ve got a new show … about breaking up.
ok, the show is not “about” us breaking up. Who the fuck would wanna see that? The show is about many things: our experience of Broadway, the joys and concerns of being a sub-cult band on the road, the challenging reality of being an aging hipster, the work/life/love balance and countless other stuff. The show is also a concert and a return to something Heidi and I did before we stumbled into theater. That’s why we called the show “Making It”: to reflect the multiple meanings of the phrase, all of which apply to our lives and which our show, unlike this cool article, fully addresses.
He’s a troubadour playing songs he calls “Blackarach.”
Oh lawd! A critic once called my music that and I found it cute and flattering. However, I have NEVER called my music that.
Alas, the band is called the Negro Problem and has larger marketing troubles. So they start recording under the name Stew. Critics fall in love with the couple’s California-as-Weimar songs
This strongly implies if not outright states that we changed the name of the band because of “marketing troubles.” It also implies that the Stew thing was better received than TNP. Both are wrong. TNP put us on the map, not Stew. And there was no name change. We just added a band because we wanted to explore a different kind of music than we were making with TNP. White boy indie rockers form multiple band personas all the time and nobody accuses them of looking for a more marketable name. The Negro Problem will be on tour this Fall.
By now, Stew and Heidi are in their forties. This is 340 in L.A. rock years.
this is TOTALLY TRUE and a great quote and I just wanted to point that out. Good one Stephen!
They call the show Making It, after their old sense that if they just do one thing—win a Tony, sell a screenplay—they will be Officially Successful, their problems solved.
Uh, no. The reason Heidi and I are still a creative team, despite the drama, is that she is the only person I’ve ever met that understands that OFFICIALLY SUCCESSFUL is a total fucking illusion. And that’s one of the main things that “Making It” is about. We’ve never been after The Dangling Carrot of Success.
The carrot we were after was the same one every couple is after: a balance between love and work. We both had differing ideas of how to achieve that balance. But neither of us thought official success would be the thing that would bring it all back home. And so some of the show is about our differing views of how to achieve that balance.
I understand that New York mag thought nobody would wanna read a detailed article about two little known artist’s struggles to balance their relationship and their career so it was easier to reduce it to such a sound-bite as quoted above. I get it. But if yer interested in the full scoop and there are no Merv Griffin re-runs that week, come to our concert and we’ll flesh it all out for you.
(Who in their right mind would name their band “The Negro Problem” if they were looking for official success?).
To almost end, I realize many of you might be thinking why whine about good press. Well I say “why not?” I don’t think that just because we are low-level public figures that it means we should to allow inaccuracies about our personal lives to go unanswered. Fuck that. You try it sometime and then we’ll talk.
And to Stephen, thanks for a fun article (and some good hanging). It reads like a water-slide. And that’s a good thing. I wish it coulda been as detailed as our conversations. But maybe you can do a deeper article about us after we’ve really made it.
/stew and heidi
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
if you’d have asked the 17 year old me whether working with the public theater, berkeley rep, the sundance institute, being on broadway or winning a tony would be a dream come true i would have said no.
but if you’d have asked me if any work of art i had anything to do with being broadcast on pbs woulda been a dream come true i would have said without a doubt, yes.
pbs played such a crucial role in my artistic upbringing that it would take an essay to even begin to address it. after the music i was listening to, pbs was the single biggest influence on my brain. mostly
because, like the music i was listening to, it made being an artist seem like the coolest job in the world.
so tonight, jaded as i am, i was quite blown away.
thanks to all who did what they did to make it all happen.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
there was a time when I was too busy or too impatient to appreciate Morton Feldman’s music. But on long late autumn nights here in Berlin I have no time for impatience. I can go the distance. “Why Patterns” has been my late night theme song lately. Ok, at 29 minutes or so that’s a long theme song but whatever.
And yes Ms. B, I am READY for the fondue pot…but I don’t know how to play bridge!