Friday, September 26, 2008

My Christmas List

Christmas is three months away. What? I hear you asking. Atheists do Christmas? Sure! Why not? It's the end of the year, everyone has vacation time to use, and what's wrong with spending a little time being nice to people? Especially when there is a chance those people will give you presents?

Speaking of presents, here are some toys I want from Santa this year. You will find that they are very practical and reasonably priced. Sort of.

1. Ibanez S7320 7-String Electric Guitar

Ain't she a beauty? I need it so I can keep doing silly crap like this. That seventh string is what will help me really find that sound I want for my fake band, Clown Stigmata. We (which is to say, I) are going for sort of a Ministry vibe, but with that deep crunchy sound that bands like Killswitch Engage and Meshuggah have found. I have a really good guitar now, a Fender Stratocaster, but it has a couple of problems. First, Strats are not really made for this kind of music. Straight-up rock-'n'-roll or punk, sure, but not so much for heavy metal. And it only has six stings. Second, the guitar is not actually mine. My good friend Dan Telfer loaned it to me a few years ago and has been kind enough to let me hold on to it and play it ever since. But, like America's debt to China, if he ever wants it back I'm kinda stuck. So you guys can help me out with that.

The guitar is my one frivolous Christmas request. Everything else is stuff I need for work, like this:

2. Rogue Steel Cup Hilt Rapier

Ooh, and Ahh! I do own a rapier already, with a sixteenth-century German style swept hilt. It's very pretty, but I have issues with it. First of all, somebody painted the damn thing, which is annoying. And it needs a new blade, because the one it has now is ridiculously heavy and has "Made In China" stamped on it. I really don't know how well it would hold up in performances. But the rapier in this image, made by Neil Massey, has a nice classic look that would go great in almost any period piece. Give me a black leather grip and a diamond Schlager blade and I'm set. And Mr. Massey makes great stuff. You just know it's gonna hold up.

Now, if I have a rapier, I'm gonna need a dagger. So, next up on my list is this:

3. Rogue Steel Main Gauche

Girthy, ain't it? And it is often paired with the cup hilt rapier, so there ya go.

Of course, I would be more than happy to go the more traditional route and take one of these:

4. Rogue Steel Ring Dagger

And then there's always the chance I'll get a crack at the Scottish Play again, so I'm definitely gonna need one of these:

5. Rogue Steel Hand and a Half Broadsword

Oh. Hell. Yeah.

So, I'll let you all discuss this list amongst yourselves. I love to be surprised!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

After Dark Awards

Gay Chicago Magazine's After Dark Awards were just announced, and there were a few winners I'm very excited about and want to point out here:

The original run of the show I'm opening this weekend, Lifeline Theatre's The Mark of Zorro, won two awards — one for fight director Geoff Coates (who also directed and choreographed Bloody Bess) and one for Outstanding Production. So, we've got a lot to live up to.

Trap Door Theatre's Emma, for which I provided the fight direction, won for Outstanding Ensemble. And my friend Blake's company, The Building Stage, won several technical awards for Noir.

Congrats to everybody!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I'm Gonna Have Brian Urlacher Take Out My Appendix

How did I not hear about this earlier? Florida Gators quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner and home-schooled born-again Christian Tim Tebow spent his spring break circumcising young boys at his father's orphanage in the Philippines.

"The first time, it was nerve-racking," Tebow said. "Hands were shaking a little bit. I mean, I’m cutting somebody. You can’t do those kinds of things in the United States. But those people really needed the surgeries. We needed to help them."

Thanks to a friend of mine who happens to be a Gainesville, Florida, native, I am something of a Gators fan. And any fan of football will agree that Tebow is a once-in-a-generation talent. He is, in fact, such a good football player that I can usually tune it out when ever he has to give props to his lord and savior in TV interviews. But this is over the line.

Tebow is not a doctor. He has had no surgical training. If he attempted this kind of bullshit in the United States he would be in jail now. Furthermore, his argument that these children "really needed the surgeries" is ridiculous. The arguments for the medical necessity of circumcision are shaky at best, but that is beside the point. There was no emergency. The lives of these children were not in danger. In fact, their lives were put further into danger by letting a 21 year old college student hack at their genitals as if they were lab specimens in a biology class.

And the press' coverage of this . . . insanity . . . has been appalling. Nobody has a clue how to handle it. At best they make a joke out of it. At worst, they bestow praises on Tebow for committing what can only be described as child abuse. I mean, if I found out that when I was an infant my doctor let some college kid handle my circumcision then I would be suing the holy hell out of some people right now, now matter how well the procedure went.

The fact of the matter is that Tebow had only one reason to do what he did. His and his family's religious convictions are well-documented. That they would force their convictions upon poor children in such a devastating way is unpardonable.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Metallica — Death Magnetic

If you haven't been able to get my attention for the last couple of days it's because I have the new Metallica album, Death Magnetic, on repeat on my iPod. That I have listened to nothing else since last Friday should not be an indication one way or the other about my opinion of the album. It is a new Metallica album, therefore I will listen to it until I know it inside and out. These guys and me, we go way back.

I probably first heard of Metallica somewhere in the seventh grade. Somebody in my junior high school had a denim jacket with one of their album covers spray-painted on it. I associated the band, and all heavy metal, with the burnouts who snuck out during lunch and smoked behind the gym. All I knew about heavy metal music was that it was noise. I don't know why I thought that; I suspect I heard a parent or other authority figure say so and it just stuck. I had no evidence to present against the accusation; I had, in fact, never actually heard real heavy metal before. I listened to whatever was on the radio.

One afternoon when I was fourteen I was kicking back in my bedroom, reading a book and listening to the radio. By then my musical tastes had refined only slightly. Instead of getting my music solely from the radio, I also got input from MTV, so I had moved on to Def Leppard and Motley Crue. I knew that some sources called these guys "metal," but I could tell they weren't "heavy" metal. For all the guitars and distortion and power chords, these guys were still just pop acts.

This commercial came on the radio. Metallica had a concert coming up, somewhere nearby. A collage of snippets from their songs played underneath the voiceover. I had to put my book down and listen. I didn't know what I was hearing, but it sure as hell wasn't just noise. I could feel something in it that those other bands, the hair bands, were hinting at but could never reach. After thirty seconds the commercial was over, but I knew I needed to hear more. That week I tuned in to the Headbangers' Ball, and I saw the video for "One." The next day I rode my bike to the record store and picked up . . . And Justice for All and Master of Puppets on cassette. I had to get Justice because that had "One" on it, but I grabbed Puppets as well because that was the title I'd heard the burnouts talk about. I had a paper route, and so I grabbed my cheap knockoff Walkman, popped in my new copy of Puppets, and headed out. The first track on that album, "Battery," made me dizzy. And it just got better from there.

It was a strange time to become a Metallica fan because since that point the quality of the band's output has steadily declined. I never had the opportunity to anticipate a new Metallica album and then have my expectations exceeded. The so-called Black Album, while excellent, was watered down compared to the fury of Justice. Load and Reload have a few decent cuts on each album that are balanced by some genuine crap. And while they all have some great material, you can't really count Live Shit, S&M or Garage, Inc. as albums.

The film Some Kind of Monster documented the difficult process of writing and recording St. Anger, the end result being a film far more interesting than the album it was about. On St. Anger Metallica attempted to create this raw, urgent sound but ended up sounding like their board op wasn't paying attention. At the time of its release I was enthusiastic about the new sound because I could see what it was trying to do, but in the end, in spite of about three decent cuts, the album proved to be almost unlistenable. You have to understand, though, that these albums were really only disappointing compared to other Metallica albums. When you listen to, say, Kill 'Em All or Ride the Lightning, you realize they've set the bar pretty damn high.

So I was nervous about the new album. I wanted it to be good, of course, but each album they've released since I first discovered the band has been distinctly less amazing than the one before it. The steady, almost 20-year-long downward trajectory did not bode well for whatever might follow up the mess that was St. Anger. But it was Metallica, so of course I was gonna buy the thing and listen to it at least a couple of times before I passed judgment.

First, I was very curious to see how new bass player Rob Trujillo fit in. Metallica's sound has never relied much on the bass (it is almost completely absent from the mixes of Justice and St. Anger), but Trujillo is such a dynamic, exciting player that he just had to bring something new and interesting to the table. What he brought was not at all what I expected. He's there all right, but very much in the background. There's a moment or two where bass takes center stage, but those moments are fleeting and serve only to set up the main groove. At no point does Trujillo cut loose the way he did back in the day when he worked with Suicidal Tendencies and the Infectious Grooves.

The other big question was the guitar solos. One of the most memorable segments in Some Kind of Monster involves producer Bob Rock arguing with lead guitarist Kirk Hammett about the relevance of the solo. Watching it, one cannot help but think of the "retro/nowtro" conversation from This Is Spinal Tap. Kirk lost that argument and his role on St. Anger was reduced to mirroring James Hetfield's riffs. But Hallelujah, the band has seen the error of its ways. The whole structure of their songs have been rearranged to highlight the solos, making this, for all intents and purposes, Kirk's album. It has some of his best solo work since Justice.

The overall sound on Death Magnetic is amazing. Before Justice came out Metallica released a stop-gap EP of covers called Garage Days Revisited, which, according to the liner notes, was "not-very-produced" by the band. As the title suggests, the EP sounds like four dudes bangin' out some tunes in their garage and having the time of their lives doing it. With the help of veteran thrash producer Rick Rubin, Death Magnetic sounds like no expense was spared in an attempt to recreate that vibe, and for the most part it succeeds. There are moments when I wish they could have kept the drums a little more under control. It isn't the sloppy sound of St. Anger, but occasionally the kick drum sounds like a mallet hitting a watermelon. It's still a huge improvement over the hellish ringing from the snare throughout St. Anger. And most of all, Death Magnetic really does sound like four guys plugging in and lettin' it rip. You hear a little of everything that has come before on this album, but all the old pieces fit together to create something new and awesome.

So, not only did they halt the downward spiral, Metallica skyrocketed back up with their best material since the '80s. And they're coming to town in January. The shows are probably all sold out already, but a guy can dream.

But really, if you need me it's gonna be while. These headphones aren't coming off any time soon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Because Nothing Else of Any Import Is Going On Anywhere

At the risk of sounding like I'm writing something just to write something, I thought I'd just give a brief status update on what's going on here in Chris World. I have this goal, see, that I would post 300 words here twice a week. It is a modest goal, and yet I keep getting bumped off schedule. All the political wackiness of the last couple weeks helped, but I want to try and maintain some level of consistency.

As astute observers might have noticed, I did not return to school this fall as I repeatedly said I would. A number of factors went into this decision, but it all boils down to money and my lack thereof. With temp assignments being unsteady at best and a discouraging response from the resumes I've sent out, I find myself more and more needing to make sure I am available for any money-earning opportunities that may arise. A couple of such opportunities have appeared in the forms of theatre work. The last twelve months saw my heaviest theatre workload since I first started acting, and the majority of it was paid work. After having relegated theatre to a hobby several years ago I now find myself having to re-evaluate my position. I seem to be somewhat "in demand," as it were, and my wife and I seem to agree that I owe it to myself to see where, if anywhere, this might take me.

The other reason I am not in school this year is less exciting: I just didn't get the financial aid I needed. If I had, this might have been a very different blog entry, but perhaps not. The theatre work was raising questions about my plans before I knew the financial aid was going to be an issue.

I started rehearsals last week on The Mark of Zorro for Lifeline Theatre. I'm performing in the show, and I've also taken on the duties of fight captain. Mostly that involves making sure the cast remembers the choreography before each performance and then cleaning the weapons afterward. It's not glamorous, but I really enjoy the work. I also am working on my Spanish and Mexican accents. I think they are coming along.

This weekend I will also join the rehearsal process for Shakesploitation!, which should be a hell of a lot of fun. I'm choreographing the fights for this one, which will mark the third show I've choreographed that involved ninjas. Pretty much all of my spare time this week is split between working on the choreography for Shakesploitation! and learning my lines for Zorro. As a result I am awake at 1:00 AM writing for my blog even though I have to be up for work in five hours.

Since I am not in school this fall I am seriously considering taking another crack at National Novel Writing Month. My writing has lagged sorely this year, I am ashamed to say, and I need something to push me back into that mode. I was frustrated when the stuff I worked on for the class I took a year ago just kinda fizzled out, and then when I got laid off I spent a lot of time moping around the house, unwilling to do anything that required actual effort.

I just got hit with a wave of tired, and so I'm going to wrap up this pointless little note. At least I passed my word-count goal.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Not to Harp On It, But . . .

From Sarah Palin's acceptance speech:

As the story is told, "When McCain shuffled back from torturous interrogations, he would turn toward Moe's door and flash a grin and thumbs up" — as if to say, "We're going to pull through this." My fellow Americans, that is the kind of man America needs to see us through these next four years.

So, basically, we're all gonna get tortured for the next four years, but every once in a while John McCain will give us a thumbs up and say, "It'll all be over soon!"

Ms. Palin delivered a good speech. I'll give her that. The hockey-mom/pitbull joke had crackerjack timing. My lovely wife made a good point, though: We've been waiting to hear this woman tell us something about herself, and so we were all riveted as she ran through her biography. She has certainly led an interesting life. She wavered some when she got into the policy part of the speech, however.

I also thought it was condescending to an extraordinary degree. Suddenly being a community organizer is a career of which one should be ashamed. And apparently nobody heard Obama's promise last week to lower taxes for ninety-five percent of the population. I thought she was inappropriately snarky, sarcastic and jokey. But it certainly killed in that convention hall.

And then here comes McCain, pulling an Obama and popping out onstage at the end. Is it just me, or is Sarah Palin physically repelled by McCain? You can see her ick factor go up every time he stepped near her. Hilarious.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Don LaFontaine, 1940 — 2008

Every single one of you have heard his voice a thousand times. "In a world" may be the most famous voice-over phrase since "Let's get ready to rumble". I'd imagine that hearing that gravelly voice utter that phrase over the trailer for a movie you made would be a sign that you'd reached the big time. (Although not really. According to Ain't It Cool News LaFontaine recorded over 5,000 trailers. Some of those movies had to suck. But at least they had an awesome trailer.)

A Moment of Silence for Don LaFontaine:

Monday, September 01, 2008

Technically, Shouldn't We Be Stoning Somebody Right Now?

In response to the news that Sarah Palin's seventeen-year-old daughter Bristol is five months pregnant, Barack Obama took the high road, saying, "This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Governor Palin's performance as governor, or her potential performance as a vice president." He stated further that he would fire any staff member caught spreading malicious rumors about the Palin family.

Fair enough.

What I think is fair game, however, are Gov. Palin's stances on abortion and sex education. Her anti-abortion stance was one of the things that got her on the GOP ticket. In 2006 she stated that she would oppose it even if her own daughter had been raped. In the same '06 survey she responded that she while she approved of abstinence-only sex education, "explicit" sex-ed programs would not receive her support. I think Obama would agree that we all need to be aware of Gov. Palin's opinions on these issues so that we as voters can make an informed decision. And I think the current situation with the governor's own family is relevant to our decision-making.

I assume (and perhaps this is a mistake) that the policies she advocates from her office are the same choices with which she educates her own family. If that is the case, I think we can agree that providing children with nothing but abstinence-only sex education has a pretty lousy success rate. And while the decision has been made (by whom we do not know) for Bristol Palin to have the baby, why is it also deemed necessary for the girl to marry the baby's father? How often does that work?

A little less than a year ago Lynne Spears had a deal to write a book on motherhood. Then her seventeen-year-old daughter Jamie Lynn announced that she was pregnant, and that particular book deal went away.

I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.