Friday, December 14, 2012

Our Rights and What's Right

I apologize for the time I've taken away from blogging. I moved across the country and found a new job and blah blah nobody cares... Anyway, nothing seemed all that important to talk about, but then today a young man made a little visit to a grade school in Connecticut and shot a whole mess of innocent people.

Now I have something to say.

The other day, after Bob Costas was nearly lynched for having the audacity to suggest that guns shouldn't be so easy to get sometimes, I went on Facebook.

I found a discussion between two of my friends. One suggested that guns don't kill people any more than cars do, and that ultimately it's the people doing it, and why don't we take away the cars since they're also deadly... The other friend said something that I wholly agree with in equating cars and guns is a false equivalency, because while cars (or knives or ropes or whatever else) can be used to kill, they ultimately have a different primary purpose, whereas the purpose of a gun can only truly be one thing. To wound, maim, or kill.

He's right, of course, and that's the reason I don't understand the people out there laboring so adamantly to fight against gun control.

I simply don't see how a logical, evolved person would in good conscience hold out this “right” to have guns as this completely impregnable thing that can't ever be questioned.

Oh wait... I should be totally clear.

I like guns. I am not opposed to private gun ownership. I have considering purchasing one of my own on numerous occasions, even recently. I've gone to shooting ranges. I've enjoyed popping off a few rounds targeted at silly paper plates.

I'm not advocating taking guns away from sane people. Guns, themselves, aren't the problem. It is possible to own a gun safely and responsibly.

Still... I think there are some big things to talk about here that go beyond my personal preferences and freedoms. The public good is at stake here.

So what about that good old 2nd Amendment?

Essentially the amendment itself says that the people have the right to bear arms, and that this right cannot be infringed upon.

Seems pretty cut and dry, but there's also this part about militias. Oh, and this other part where it's about it being a right only when crucial to the security of a free state.

Really, it's not all that clear what it all means. You know what IS clear?

The US Constitution, along with the first 10 amendments were ratified in 1791.

Here are some facts about guns in 1791...

Guns in 1791 WOULD

Guns in 1791 WOULD NOT

Had the 3 guns carried by the shooter in today's violence been the “Arms” our founding fathers had in mind, he'd have killed 3 people at most. That's assuming the guns didn't malfunction. That's assuming he wouldn't have missed otherwise. That's assuming he walked in with all 3 guns loaded and ready to fire.

Once those 3 shots were done, he likely would have been subdued by one of the many bystanders while he tried to re-load the muzzles and that would have been that. A horrible tragedy to be sure, but nothing like what transpired today.

My point?

The founding fathers didn't have 9mm automatic handguns in mind when they gave everyone the right to “bear arms”. They weren't governing based on the possibility of a sociopath with a Bushwacker opening fire in a kindergarten class.

So you know.. maybe we don't lean so hard on this 2nd Amendment? Maybe I'm wrong.

But let's just say I am wrong, and Thomas Jefferson and everybody else would have been totally cool with assault rifles.

Should WE be okay with them?

I know that some guns are cool, and some guns are fun to shoot. I get it, totally. I get that it's fun to go to a gun show and buy a .50 caliber sniper rifle, you know... just to have it.

You know what, though?

Maybe YOUR fun isn't what matters. Or mine. Or anyones. Maybe the safety of the people as a whole is more important than your desire to own a cool gun. It's all just dick measuring, right? The need to own a bigger and badder gun than the person next door.

You want to “protect” your family? I'm down with that. I just don't think you need an AK-47 to do it. A simple .38 revolver can do that just fine if a gun is the way you want to do that.

What? You need more than 6 shots to protect your family? What fucking gang did you piss off? If we're being honest here, if you're in a situation where 6 shots isn't enough, maybe you're into some shit a little deeper than you should be. I dunno.

So okay.. lets say that Glock is really necessary for your protection. Do you need 5 of them? You only have 2 hands, and maybe you should consider using one of them to open the back door and run like hell.

That's really what I'm getting at here...

I'm not against guns.

I'm against owning a dozen guns. I'm against the ridiculous loophole that allows people to buy a gun from a gun show without a background check. I'm against people making a big deal about those background checks, because it infringes on your rights to wait a couple of fucking days for your “recreational M16”.

I'm sad that you need to take classes before they give you a license to cut hair, sell real estate, drive a car, ride a scooter, and bartend, but you don't need to take a gun safety class before you can buy one.

A lot of people are going to blame a lot of things for this shooting, and you know, we'll probably never know whether the guy got a little too bored killing digital people in a video game, or if he was listening to too much metal, or any of the other bullshit things that are always blamed. One thing we do know? If he didn't have easy access to guns, those people would still be alive.

I think it's time to look at ourselves. Just because we may have the right to bear arms, does that mean we should bear like... all of them at once?

I'm sure there are people who will argue that the government shouldn't have this kind of say over what we do. That tightening up on gun control will simply start the ball rolling and give the feds the foothold they need to start taking away other rights.

It's a risk I'm willing to take to prevent another day like today.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Something about Lolo

I don't know if you've been following the Olympics, but if you have, you likely know of Lolo Jones.

There are probably at least a couple of things you know:

1) Lolo Jones is very, very attractive.
2) Lolo Jones didn't win a medal.

There are probably at least a couple of things you've heard:

1) Lolo Jones is a product of the USA Marketing Machine.
2) Lolo Jones is not a very good hurdler.

The things you know are 100% true. Lolo is extremely attractive. Like... crazy good looking. She's in phenomenal shape, and she's pretty too. She also didn't win a medal for the second Olympics in a row. The first time she was leading with one hurdle to go, and she fell. The second time she ran cleanly but was beaten and came in fourth.

The things you've heard are another story.

It's probably true, at least to some degree, that Lolo has enjoyed a distinct level of fame reserved for exceptionally pretty athletes in glamor athletic events. If I'm thinking about marketing US Olympians to the American people, I'd probably see her and think about featuring her as well. This is, decidedly, not her fault, and not her issue. If McDonalds wants to pay me to be in their ads, I'm taking their money too.

What isn't true in the very least is that she's not a very good hurdler.

If you're making that statement as a simple reaction to her lack of a win, that's an insane exaggeration. This isn't Highlander. There can be more than one very good, world class, hurdler. Not only does it disrespect her, but it disrespects her opponents as well. Just because she wasn't the best on this particular day, or even if she's never been the absolute best, to say that she's not any good is patently insane and stupid.

Factually, it's also just wrong. She's a multiple time indoor track champion. She runs the 100 Meter Hurdles in under 13 seconds regularly, and the 100 meter dash in under 12. That's really fucking fast.

Just because there are women who are faster (the total number of which could be counted on 3 fingers) doesn't mean that her skills or her abilities are less impressive.

The frustration comes, I believe, out of the fact that someone along the way decided to bring her to our collective attention as a superstar, and for the most part those people usually are superstars. The fact that she is merely exceptional and not the best has seemingly turned the media, and in turn many people who aren't paying attention or thinking about her actual achievements, against her.

Let me be clear on this point... That is NOT on her. That's on us. That's on the media. It's not her responsibility to "live up to" the hype. She may not have discouraged the hype, but what track athlete would? Track stars are, by nature, insanely confident. Personally, I think it's a shame that we, as a culture, feel the need first create stars, and then tear them down if they don't entertain us the way we want.

Lolo Jones is the 4th fastest hurdler in the world. That's pretty fucking amazing.

While we're talking about how fucked up our world is (with the Olympics as the looking glass), let's talk for a minute about Gabby Douglas.

Again, I assume that if you've been watching the Olympics, you know who Gabby Douglas is... For those of you needing a reminder, she's a 16 year old girl who also happened to have won the women's gymnastics all-around gold medal.

This Gabby Douglas has now been criticized by 2 groups within the American people (at least) that I'm aware of...

I saw her criticized on Fox News (...) because during the individual all-around competition she wore a pink outfit as opposed to something representing America. She was essentially accused of having some sort of American self-loathing, or something. Or that she was embarrassed to be an exceptional American, so she subconsciously wore "unAmerican colors".

This?? Is total, fucking, bullshit. It is. It's just sitting there LOOKING for something to criticize. Last I checked, nobody was unsure of where she came from, and she stood and held her hand over her heart during the National Anthem. The fact that she wore pink doesn't make her a commie. In fact, I'm fairly sure commies hate pink. . Nastia Liukin, the actual Russan-born American, won the 2008 all-around gold wearing... PINK. Did anyone mention this? I don't know why people are looking for reasons to criticize this amazing teenager.

The other point of criticism came from a much more disappointing place.

Gabby Douglas has been criticized in the black community, because she didn't fix her hair "black enough". Oh... did I forget to mention that Gabby Douglas is black? Instead of being proud of her a a teenager who won a gold medal for her country, people can't leave the poor girl alone. I don't want to get into the history of black women's hair in the US. I don't much care. I don't care if she shaved her head. I don't care if she wore braids. I don't care if she added a weave. I don't care if she straightened it. It's 100% irrelevant. She's an exceptional athlete, who seems to handle herself in an exceptional manner, and her hair is totally fucking beside the point.

I am so sad that we have a girl who can potentially serve as a role model for Americans everywhere. Boys, girls. Anyone. She's a teenager who can be held up as a success as opposed to being famous for being on some horrible MTV show.

I'm offended that we're not celebrating her success more.

This isn't my last blog about the Olympics. Over on Facebook, I made the statement that Michael Phelps is clearly the greatest Olympian ever, and while many people agreed, other people vehemently disagreed. Or at least felt like it was a fun debate (It totally is!), so....

Over the next couple of days I'm going to formulate my own little greatest Olympian tournament, and we'll break it down. I hope that I can be open enough to not crown Phelps automatically.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Talkin' Broadway with The Muchacho

"George! Get this mother effing spider off me!!!!"

There was a time when I was one of those musical theatre people. You know the kind I’m talking about. I was ALWAYS debating what the best musicals were. Or at least what my own personal favorites were.

That was a long time ago. These days, I don’t hang with many musical theatre folks, so I’m relegated to talking extensively about drywall, and corning wear, and wet willies, and how fucking hot it is outside. It’s not that none of my friends like musical theatre. Maybe it’s just that making unnecessary lists is a thing we all do in our early 20s and after a while it just gets old. Maybe it’s because there hasn’t exactly been a huge number of game-changing musicals over the past decade or so.

My theory? At least for me, the two most prominent venues for glorifying musical theatre have done the exact opposite. Glee and Smash are both horrific television programs which intend to show how awesome musicals are, but mostly just show how awful people can be. It’s kind of forced me to take a bit of a break from the greatest American art form.

After having a brief conversation with the Tofu Muchacha (and perhaps more with myself than anything), I’ve decided to revisit an old discussion I used to have and list my favorite musicals. My list is weighted toward the modern. There’s not a lot of obscure stuff. It’s just a straightforward list of shows that mean something to me, and have kick-ass music, and sometimes I just dream about being in them.

So… Without further ado..

The Beefy Muchacho’s Top 10 Favorite Musicals.

Honorable Mentions:
Bat Boy – I was first introduced to Bat Boy about 10 years ago while I was teaching at a local high school. We were really interested in doing it, but we couldn’t get the rights, so we ended up doing Godspell. That turned out really well, but I was always a little disappointed we couldn’t do Bat Boy. It’s just so weird and quirky and fun. It has a huge helping of “silly” in there. Also it’s twisted and perverted. It’s totally awesome. Hidden under all of that silliness and quirk, though, is a very challenging score with some exceptionally fun songs to sing. My personal favorites include the quartet at the end of Act 1 and this really beautiful section of a song toward the end of the play where the mother and father sing this gorgeous harmonic duet for about 4 measures. It’s just a neat piece of music. People should do it more.

Hair – I was in Hair a couple of years ago, and I spent most of the time thinking “This is the dumbest, weirdest show ever. Why do people like this?” Of course, I was in the unenviable position of playing “The Man”, and I wasn’t part of the tribe and I didn’t have a ton of fun stuff to do. I was playing the square over and over. It wasn’t until the show started to really come together, and I had a chance to really listen to the songs, and really pay attention to what was happening in the scenes I wasn’t in to appreciate Hair for what it is… It’s an archeological piece. It’s a time capsule. It’s a perfect window into an important, altering moment in our country’s history. Yeah, it’s bizarre. Yeah, some of the songs are really stupid (The musical version of Hamlet’s “What a Piece of Work is Man” speech is especially ridiculous), but there are also some really interesting moments. The song “Frank Mills” where this sweet hippie girl sings a love song to this dirty biker she met once for a minute is one of the sweetest songs in musical theatre. Oh… also? It fucking rocks. There are some great, great rocking musical theatre songs. “Aquarius”, “Hair”, “The Flesh Failures”, “Let the Sun Shine In”…. those songs are extremely catchy, and really fun. I’m especially fond of the titular “Hair”. That song is badass.

Chidren of Eden - I’ve always felt that there’s this unspoken thing where you’re either a Sondheim person or a Schwartz person. They are the two most successful composers of musicals of the last 50 years (along with Webber). I think that I am one of the few people who fall somewhere in the middle of the two. The thing I love most about Stephen Schwartz are his harmonies. He creates some of the most soaring, beautiful choral harmonies, and I think Children of Eden has the best ones. I played “Father” in Children of Eden a while back, and while it was a lot of fun, and a huge challenge, I was always a little disappointed, because I didn’t get much opportunity to participate in the great harmonies. The finale is such a lovely song, and the build into the a capella section is one of the prettier pieces of music in all of musical theatre in my opinion.

Godspell - I really had a hard time choosing between Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell. I realize there’s no rule that says I have to choose just one, but to me they’ll always be compared because they came out around the same time, lay people confuse the two, and they are so clearly telling the same story but from different world views. I think that ‘Superstar’ would be amazing to be a part of (there are like… five parts I’d love to play), but ultimately the thing that sets Godspell apart for me is that there’s just this way that it manages to connect with the audience on an emotional level. It’s one of those shows where the actors become very close if it’s done right. That closeness comes through. It’s a team effort in a way. I also think the music of Godspell is just so much fun, and has so much life. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been a part of two productions of it that were both particularly positive experiences for me. It’s just a great show.

South Pacific – Rogers and Hammerstein has a tendency to be viewed as passé for “inside” theatre people, and I think that’s like an art student saying they like Picasso, or a musician saying that The Beatles are their favorite band. They might be dinged for being unoriginal, and they might be snickered at by their fellow art and music majors, but you know what? The reason those things are passé is because so many people for so many years listed their work as being their favorite. They’re just good. That’s all. South Pacific is a classic. It’s Rogers and Hammerstein at the top of their games, churning out a dozen memorable, enduring songs (“Some Enchanted Evening”, “Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair”, “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy”, “Younger Than Springtime”, “Carefully Taught”, “There’s Nothing Like a Dame”, “Bali Hai”.) I mean… these songs are all musical theatre classics. The show is powerful, and entertaining, and a damn lot of fun to be in. The production I was in at Jenny Wiley Theater was one of the most fun times I’ve had on stage. It was just a great time.

Okay… and now the tough part. Ranking my 10 favorite musicals of all time... In order ending with my all time favorite musical.

10 - The Last 5 Years It’s certainly on my list of shows I’d like to be in. I love Jason Robert Brown’s music. I love his lyrics. I love that he writes pretty much exclusively for the Baritenor in his lead roles. I could have picked a few of his shows, but this one stands out to me as his best, and also his most heartbreaking. He has this great knack for infusing great emotion into his work, and it’s obvious he was conflicted when he wrote this auto-biographical work about his failed marriage. The most creative part is that it shows the progression of the relationship from the perspective of both characters (man and woman) but their stories go in reverse. At the beginning of the show, the relationship is starting for the man and ending for the woman. There are so many good songs here, but it’s hard not to fall in love with “The Next 10 Minutes” where the stories of both people intersect and they sing the one and only true duet of the 2 person show. It’s a very powerful theatre experience.

9 - West Side Story – If I were a dancer, I’d probably have West Side higher. If I were a tenor, I’d probably have it higher too. I’m definitely bitter that I have a tough time singing Tony’s songs. Look… This is probably the most technically perfect musical ever created. It’s got the score by Leonard Bernstein. The Lyrics by Sondheim. The source material by Shakespeare. The original choreography by Jerome Robbins. It's just spectacular. The only real downside is that this show tends to be mounted by people who don't quite get how difficult it is, and don't quite get how important all of the factors are. The music is very difficult to sing, so sometimes groups will cast it with the best singers, and the dancing suffers. There are people who cast it to showcase dancers, and the music suffers. The acting almost always suffers. Believe me, though... As soon as you see a cast that can sing, dance, AND act the show. It's amazing.

8 – Little Shop of Horrors – I distinctly remember singing “The Dentist Song” while playing on the playground in 2nd or 3rd grade. For whatever reason, Little Shop spoke to me from a young age. I think it was the first time it registered to me that a musical could be funny and dark. It’s possible that The Dentist is the first role I ever wanted to play. I remember riding around in my mom’s car and listening to the cassette tape of Little Shop over and over and over. Clearly my mother loved me a lot, because damn. I knew EVERY word of that show. It’s just so funny and smart, but at the same time, the tunes really stick with me. Far more than other “funny” shows. Not that those shows are bad, but I feel like Little Shop really paved the way for a slightly more irreverent strain of Broadway musicals. If you follow me… I’m essentially saying that without Little Shop of Horrors, there would be no Urinetown, Avenue Q, or even The Book of Mormon. It’s absolutely classic.

7 – Assassins – I know it’s blasphemous to many, but I’m not a huge Sondheim fan. I mean… I like several of his works, and I acknowledge the skill he has, but it’s mostly not my thing. I far more gravitate toward the melodic rather than the wordy. There are a couple of exceptions, though, and easily my favorite of all of Sondheim’s shows is Assassins. It’s the perfect combination for me of my love of history, my love of musical theatre, and my love of dark material. There’s nothing to dislike about Assassins. It’s clever, it’s got some truly touching and emotional music. It’s bitingly funny. It has provided me with more than one victory at a trivia night, because who else would know who the hell Samuel Byck was? The scene in the Dallas Book Depository is one of the most chilling scenes in all of theatre, even if it’s playing fast and loose with one of the worst moments in our country’s history. I’m not as fond of the cast of the more recent revival with Neil Patrick Harris and Mario Cantone and Michael Cerveris. I much prefer the version with Victor Garber and Terrence Mann. It’s one of the better cast recordings ever.

6 – Big River – Man… this is getting really, really tough. I think it’s safe to say that on a given day I could potentially list any of these next 6 as my favorite all time musical, and I likely wouldn’t argue…with myself… Anyway, Big River is awesome for several reasons… First, the source material is one of the most important, entertaining, and touching books ever written. (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). Second, the songs are uniformly either catchy as all hell (“I, Huckleberry Me”, “Guv’ment”, “Hand for the Hog”, “When the Sun Goes Down in the South”) or beautiful (“River in the Rain” “Waiting for the Light to Shine”) just plain moving (“Worlds Apart”, “You Oughta Be Here with Me”, “Leavin’s Not the Only Way to Go”, “Free at Last”), or even exciting (“Muddy Water” “Waiting for the Light to Shine (Reprise)”). It’s probably the only soundtrack I own where I’ll listen to it straight through every time. I never want to skip a song to get to another. Third, I think it provides some of the most interesting visual possibilities of any show. It’s perfect for outdoor stages. Fourth, it’s got a lot of personal, emotional connection for me as it was one of my all-time favorite experiences in a show as a teen. It’s just a wonderful show. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing several wonderful productions, and even being in one of those.

5 – Carousel – This breaks my heart, because I honestly expected it to end up higher. I have some very sentimental reasons for loving Carousel so much, but I first want to talk about the more factual reasons for it being great; I don’t think anyone would deny that Rogers and Hammerstein were one of the great musical theatre writing teams of all time. They created several of the truly great musicals ever. Some were very, very broad and commercial (Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, Cinderella), some were more political (The King and I, South Pacific), but one was the perfect combination of a beautiful story, a little serious message-delivery, and insanely gorgeous music. That, of course, is Carousel. From the very beginning, Carousel is a masterpiece of music. The opening sequence where the overture plays and the carousel is assembled on stage in a dance is one of the most beautiful sequences in anything. There are so many great moments and memorable characters, but of course, none greater or more memorable than Billy Bigelow, who is arguably one of the more unsympathetic, or at least… morally ambiguous… main characters in Broadway history. I remember seeing the national tour in Cincinnati around 1995. It was the revival staging and design, and I went into it thinking I would be bored, and I was the absolute OPPOSITE of bored. It was magical.

On a personal note, when I needed to write my senior one-act about a figure in theatre history, I chose Broadway legend John Raitt (Bonnie’s dad). He was the original Sid in The Pajama Game. The 2nd Curly in Oklahoma, and famously the original Billy Bigelow. I couldn’t find any information on him at all, really. This was before Wikipedia, and there were no biographies about him like there was about Ethel Merman or Sondheim. There was just… nothing. I wasn’t sure where to turn, and I was getting close to changing streams and choosing another person entirely. I had one final recourse, and I had no expectation of it yielding anything close to a result. I called Information and asked for “John Raitt, Fullerton, California”.

I was connected and an old man answered the phone.

I said “Can I speak to Mr. John Raitt, please?”

He said: “Speaking.”

I said: “Is this John Raitt the actor?”

He said: “I prefer to think of myself as a singer.”

After that, a lot of the conversation was a blur, but I can tell you that it lasted 3 hours. I explained to him my project. I asked him a million questions, many of them pretty personal. I asked him what it was like to work directly with Rogers and Hammerstein. I asked him what it was like to sing their amazing music. He was unbelievably gracious. It was truly one of the more amazing experiences of my life. At the end of the conversation, he asked me for my address. A couple of weeks later I received a letter from him, wishing me luck on my project, and a signed headshot.

How could I not love Carousel just a little bit extra after an experience like that?

4 - Ragtime. This one is a little simpler, I guess. The first time I saw Ragtime, with the original cast in their pre-Broadway run in Toronto in the Summer of 1997, is the single most insanely awesome production of something I’ve ever seen. Audra MacDonald. Brian Stokes Mitchell. Marin Mazzie. Peter Friedman, Mark Jacoby. All of them really. It was a truly incredible show. And one of the great, most special things about that experience was that because it was so new, nobody knew a thing about it. How often can you go into a show completely unaware of what you’re about to see? It could have been tragically bad. It could have been unwatchable. Instead, I got one of the most arresting, moving theatre watching experiences I’ve ever had, featuring what is easily the most stacked cast of performers I’ve ever witnessed in person. I loved it so much, and talked about it so incessantly for the next 10 months that when my Dad, Dee Anne, and I went to New York the next Spring, there was no way we couldn’t see it. I got to see the original cast TWICE.

Of course, as with everything with me, I have personal connections to this show. I was in a production of it in the Fall of 2003, and while I was woefully too young, I had the privilege of playing Tateh. For a multitude of reasons, it was among the more memorable shows I’ve ever done, and while not all of those memories are entirely positive, it was a show I felt honored to be in at the time, and it just felt like we were doing something really cool. It was.

3- Les Miserables - Listen… I know that at least to some degree, loving Les Mis is a bit of a cliché along the lines of loving Phantom of the Opera (I don’t, particularly.) There’s just a huge swath of musical theatre nerds who grew up listening to Les Mis over and over and over again. I’m absolutely one of them. It’s become one of those things where every person has sung every song. A lot of Musical Theatre programs and companies won’t allow you to sing a song from Les Mis for auditions, because for a while there that’s all they heard.

Here’s the thing, though… It really is something spectacular to behold. Of all of those big spectacle shows from the 80s, I believe that Les Mis holds up the best. Better than Cats. Better than Phantom. Better than Miss Saigon. It’s got these huge themes and huge set pieces, and every song ends on a 30 second glory note that will PROVE that Colm Wilkinson is a fucking MAN damnit. Like, for real. If I told you that I didn’t spend a good amount of my youth dreaming about one day playing Javert and singing the absolute shit out of ‘Stars”, I’d be lying to you.

It’s the ultimate “Singers Musical”. While “A Chorus Line” is the ultimate dancer musical and Avenue Q is the ultimate puppetry musical, and “The Life” is the ultimate hooker musical, Les Mis is the absolute peak of Singing Masturbation. Not to be lewd or anything, but there’s not a girl on this Earth who didn’t drop everything to sing “On My Own” or “I Dreamed a Dream” if they ever wanted to be on Broadway. It just didn’t happen.

Frank Wildhorn attempted to make a cottage industry around singer-masturbation shows, but Les Mis is the all-time champion.

That is not, in any way, to diminish what it does exceptionally well, and that is make the audience totally melt at about 9 different points. It’s an incredibly moving show, with moving music, and if performed by talented people who do it justice, it’s one of the best things to go spend 4 hours seeing. It’s great.

2 - Rent - It’s possible that I’ve spent more time thinking about Rent than any other show. I’ve debated the merits of it with people I respect, and I’ve discussed the sticky-wicket that is mounting new productions of it. I’ve thought about that original cast and how almost all of them have moved on to being big stars because of it. I’ve blogged about it at least twice.

The thing about Rent is that it speaks to us. It features music that is visceral and kind of dirty, and slightly unedited. (much like this blog), and it was born of a genius who died too soon, and ironically NOT from the virus that Rent talks about so candidly. It is THE musical of my generation in terms of what it meant to be a musical theatre nerd in the mid 1990s. I’ve talked about how it was a given that if it was put on the radio at a nerdy musical theatre party that without exception every person there would BLAST out the words to every single song. It means a lot to us aging Generation Xers. It tells the story of struggles and being an artist and dealing with losses in a positive way. Remembering the good. In a way it’s the opposite of Slackers or Reality Bites where the whole thing was centered on this malaise and apathy. The characters in Rent FEEL everything around them. They’re all raw nerves. It’s a very youthful, hopeful, idyllic show, and it makes me remember that time in my life.

I said last year, after seeing CCMs insanely good production of it, that I’d always been of the opinion that it should never be done. No production can reasonably expect to be favorably compared with the original, and that there was no show in Broadway history where the original was so KNOWN. So memorized by every person who would care. It could be argued that The Book of Mormon is headed down that road.

I’m starting to move away from that a bit, in that I do think it can be done, and maybe even SHOULD be done. It’s a time capsule from that time in our lives, so it’s important. I just hope that the next one I see does something totally out of left field. That’s what I crave now in my musical theatre viewing. I want someone to take a look at Jonathan Larson’s brilliant piece of art and say…

“I can do this in a new way. I’m going to make people think about this show differently than they have for the last 16 years.”

I hope it happens soon, because it’s too amazing a show to let it sit on a shelf.

1 - Spring Awakening… Weren’t expecting that, were you?

I’ve seen Spring Awakening two times. The first was a national tour where I wrote two long, wordy-ass blogs about how blown away I was. Considering I’m so succinct most of the time, you have to know how much I was set on my ear by Spring Awakening the first time I saw it. It was a revelation for me.

I’d listened to, and LOVED the soundtrack for a solid 6 months before I saw it, but I think that more than any other show I can think of, you can listen to the songs and have no real idea of what’s happening in the show without the visual context to support it. In a way, I love that about it. It’s the evolutionary grandson of shows like Oklahoma! Which famously integrated the musical for the first time 50 years before. By “integrated”, I mean that it was really the first major production to have the songs progress the story. Before that, most musicals were a hodgepodge of popular songs by Cole Porter or George Gershwin where something happens… a character sings a semi-related song… and then things happen some more.

Spring Awakening is the first musical I can recall where the lyrics forward the story, but ONLY when taken in as a smaller part of the whole. The dance, and the staging, and the full performances. It’s the MOST integrated show I can think of in that way.

That’s all very technical, I guess, but what can I say? The show moves me.

In another way, Spring Awakening is the next generation’s Rent. There’s this exciting, innovated portrayal of youth that talks about another side of growing up. It’s so much about the unknown and how dangerous half-truths can be. It takes on large themes like those, and makes me think about them in a different way.. . It also handles tiny moments, and it does so in this painful, elegant manner. It’s crushing to see how the small, seemingly minor choices of people have repercussions.

The second time I saw it, (in a production at CCM), I realized that what I loved most about it was the intimacy of it. We watched it in the studio theater where I could see every facial expressed the pain and confusion and wonder and love of the characters. It’s a show that is meant to be done in a closet. It’s works on such a personal level when you can see every crease of an eye or flick of a grin. The scenes between Melchior and Wendla, especially, take on this whole other feel when you can see the trepidation and excitement in their faces as they discover that they love each other.

Honestly, I could go on and on about it. I have done so in the past. It’s just a wonderful show with killer music and innovative dancing and staging. I truly love it.

If you asked me tomorrow what my favorite musical is, I may or may not say Spring Awakening, but as I went through this exercise today, that’s the show I landed on, and I am pleased with my choice.

Monday, July 23, 2012

It's a "Gut" Thing.

I’m 32 years old.

There are very few people who’d say that is “Old”, but I feel it sometimes, nonetheless. I rarely think about that in most of my life. You know… aside from the occasional “Wow… the kids who start high school this year were born the year I graduated”, there aren’t a lot of real life reminders.

The one thing that always gets me, though, is sports. I’m confronted with reminders every day. I think about how if I were a major league baseball player (my short-lived childhood dream), I’d likely be declining out of my prime by now. I think how I vividly remember the 1992 USA Basketball team, and how that was 20 years ago, and how every single one of those players is long retired. I remember guys like Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza… where I remember their entire careers from beginning to end.

And now…

Barry Larkin is in the Hall of Fame.

Barry Larkin was my favorite Red growing up. He was the best (or 2nd best) player on every Reds team for my entire childhood. His career spanned, almost exactly , the same years I spent in school. I started 1st grade in 1986, his rookie year. I graduated college in 2002, his 2nd to last year. I saw him play more games in person than any other player. He was the most recognizable player of the only championship team of my lifetime.

Now… he wasn’t my first favorite Red. That honor goes to Johnny Bench or Pete Rose or maybe Mario Soto, but those guys weren’t my players. They were my Dad’s players, and since I want(ed) to be like him, I adopted the players he admired. Pete Rose’s rookie season happened when my dad was 9 years old. Pete Rose was my Dad’s Barry Larkin.

Barry Larkin was the first favorite Red of MY time as a baseball fan.

I’ve had a long running argument with my best friend (The Brawny Hombre) about whether Larkin deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. I always took the “Pro” in that fight, and maybe aside from the overwhelming numerical support for my argument, there was always something else. Something unquantifiable.

The Brawny Hombre always made the statement that it was more of a “gut” feeling that told him Larkin wasn’t a hall of famer, and I made the same argument for him.

You see, for me…Barry Larkin WAS baseball for me, growing up. He was the guy I wanted to hit like. He was the guy who carried me through the dark end of the Marge era. He was the guy who led the most exciting teams of my life, the 1990, 1995, and 1999 Reds teams. He was the guy who ALWAYS got on base, who ALWAYS made right base-running decision, who ALWAYS got to the ball in the hole. He was Barrrrrryyyyyy LARK-innnnnnnnnn. Through all those years, the Reds had other good players. Eric Davis was electrifying. Chris Sabo was a fun flash. Jose Rijo was a reliably strong starting pitcher. Rob Dibble was Aroldis Chapman before Aroldis Chapman... and was completely insane. Reggie Sanders…Paul O’Neill… Ken Griffey Jr… Sean Casey. God forbid, Adam Dunn.

None of them held quite the same place of esteem in my heart and mind that Barry Larkin did… Does.

It’s a sign that I’m getting older that a player came up, rose to greatness, declined as all players do, retired, and achieved his place in the Hall of Fame, and I remember it all. I loved it all.

I can’t think of a player I’ve rooted for as hard as I rooted for Barry Larkin. Maybe, one day, another player will come along to grab my imagination. It’s going to be difficult. I’m a jaded old adult now. I’m not as prone to idolatry.

Maybe that’s as it should be. When my dad talks about his favorite baseball moments, he invariably talks about The Big Red Machine. The team of his youth. Baseball is a kid’s game afterall. My teams were Larkin’s teams. My favorite player was Barry Larkin.

And now Barry Larkin is in the hall of fame, validating the 10 year old kid who would scream and yell and cheer for his hero at Riverfront Stadium all those times.

And damn… I’m old.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Not So Magical

One of the more nuanced moments of Magic Mike

I went to see Magic Mike.


My period didn’t spontaneously begin.

That is not to say that I would go out of my way to see it again (I wouldn’t), but I want to talk about it for a bit. I also want to talk about the looks I received when purchasing my ticket, the snickers I got from the hoard of teen girls in the audience (for a Rated R movie!) as I walked in to the theater, and the looks of amusement and/or the audible surprise from literally everyone I’ve told about my experience.

First, let’s talk about this movie… It wasn’t that great. Not because it was chock full of greased up, mostly naked dudes. I mean.. it absolutely is chock full of greased up, mostly naked dudes, but I feel like those greased up, mostly naked dudes are not why the movie isn’t great.

The movie wasn’t great because almost all of the characters are dicks (figurative ones… sheesh).

The dramatic arc is pretty weak. The 2 major conflicts are both telegraphed from miles away. (What? The girl who they identify ONLY as trouble actually IS trouble? You don’t fucking say.) Neither of the major conflicts are particularly concerning, because one of the main characters you are mostly supposed to dislike, and the other is better off anyway.

They try to establish the Channing Tatum character as this care-free playboy, jack of all trades, artist or whatever. Instead, he’s written as clingy. You never actually see him creating his art. You never see him being good at his other various jobs. They do their best to establish him as a dude getting his life together, but for all the money he supposedly makes in all of his jobs, his well-established nest-egg is pitifully small. Basically, the character you’re supposed to like the most for all of these reasons is really only likeable because he’s Channing Tatum.

The first love interest, played by Olivia Munn, is an amoral “free spirit” who starts off fairly likeable and gets to be a cartoon. The second love interest, played by the daughter of newly appointed Disney Studios head Alan Horn, starts off overly stern and officious, and then just seems to change her mind. (I especially liked how her “boyfriend’ is immediately established as a douche. Like… you don’t like him immediately, and that seemed cheap.

Some stuff happens.

Then it just ends. It’s supposed to be cheeky (no pun intended), and naughty, and all “whatever, we’re rated R”. It mostly just comes across as an excuse to display the undeniably impressive abs of several 2nd tier Hollywood actors.

The main laughable thing is that Matthew McConaughey is getting some sort of bizarre “best supporting actor” buzz. That’s totally insane, and a clear attempt to try to bring legitimacy or… something…. to a movie that really should just embrace the silliness.

I feel like if the movie was directed by someone else, I wouldn’t be cutting it down as much. If it were directed by Joe Johnston or some anonymous rom-com director, I think my issues would be framed a little differently. It really is just a silly movie full of eye candy for both sexual preferences (there are a lot of boobs in the movie, and it is my suspicion that there are even more that will be in the unrated version).

Unfortunately, the movie was directed by Steven Soderbergh. The same guy who directed Traffic. Ocean’s Eleven. Contagion. Movies with real points of view. Movies that are more than just a bunch of greased up dudes showing their asses (literally). The man was the first person in 60 plus years to be nominated for Best Director twice in the same year. I had higher hopes is all. Unfortunately, something got in the way, and I’m not quite sure what it is. There’s a nugget of a good movie somewhere in there. Maybe we just needed Don Cheadle to show up and cause some trouble. In an inexplicable British accident.

Overall… I give the movie a C-minus. Could have been much better.

Let’s talk for a minute, though, about the way the movie has entered our collective consciousness. Somewhere along the way, it’s been adopted by horny women (it’s really the era of Horny Women, isn’t it? What with Magic Mike and 50 Shades of Grey ) and gay men. That’s cool, you know… Everybody needs a movie to grab their attention. I just can’t think of another movie in my memory that has been so completely coopted that literally any other demographic of audience member risks ridicule.

I’ve gone to dozens of movies by myself. In fact, I mostly prefer it. Also, I don’t care if people think I’m gay. The people who need to know my sexual preference know it, and the rest of the world is free to speculate. I just think it’s weird that something as silly as a movie could even at all inform my sexuality.
Let me pose a question for you…

If there were a sports movie about a male swimming star… would that be off limits to sports fans because of the dudes in speedos? What about a movie about Greco-Roman wrestling?

I understand that some gay men and straight women might like to check out the greased up dancing dudes, and that’s cool. What if I just wanted to see a movie by the director of one of my favorite movies of the past 12 years? What if I have a thing for Olivia Munn? If a movie is good, I have no problem with seeing naked guys. It’s no different than straight women and gay men being subjected to the naked women who have proliferated movies for like… ever.

I hate it when I ramble… Here’s my point.

I think it’s time to stop assigning movies, people, songs, whatever to various groups. If I want to enjoy a Judy Garland movie, I should be able to without jokes and giggles. If a woman wants to go by herself to see some movie about football (Not a rom com that features football players) she should be able to without people throwing her a sideways eye. If a gay man wants to write a blog about hockey, he should be able to without fielding the numerous “but… I thought you were gay” questions. (Is that even a question?)

Of course, to make strides, we all have to play the game. We have to break down the walls of taboo.

We must go see fluffy ab-porn movies if they look remotely entertaining.

Just maybe not this one. Because it was dumb.

Coming Soon to the Blog: My Top 10 Broadway Musicals (I'm really throwing that gaydar for a loop today, I bet.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Flip It!

The other day the TM and I were invited to an impromptu gathering at the home of some friends. We were lured with the promise of beer and fire and good company, and that’s pretty much all we need to clear our schedules, so we accepted.

The day before I got a text asking if we could provide the desserts, and as any long-time reader of my blog will know, this was right up my alley. So much so, the TM had purchased a special cookbook called The Joy of Cheesecake for Christmas this past year.

I quickly responded back that I would be glad to bring a cheesecake. After much perusing of the cookbook and keeping in mind the audience (one of the friends has a severe gluten allergy)… I was at a loss. Then the TM suggested a crustless blueberry cheesecake. It looked fairly straightforward, and I like blueberries, so I was sold.

This cheesecake presented a few firsts for me. It was the first cheesecake I’d made that didn’t call for baking. It was set using gelatin instead, which I’d never used before. It was the first crust-free cheesecake I’d ever made. It was also the first one that uses cottage cheese as well as cream cheese. It also didn’t use any flour at all.

I should mention a couple more things… First, The TM decided to go to bed immediately after we purchased the supplies, and she’s the expert baker in the house. I’ve utilized her advice throughout all of my previous baking adventures. I was flying solo.

Second, there was an additional, optional level of difficulty in that the cheesecake was designed to be flipped after it sets, so that the berries are on top.

It’s possible that I bit off more than I could chew.
After much discussion, the TM suggested that I use wax paper or parchment paper to line the pie pan, thus making the cheesecake easily flappable when the time came.

Did I listen? That would have made far too much sense. My need for aesthetic won the day, and I felt that the crinkly paper would make the cake look messy after the paper was peeled away.

So with that, she went to bed, and adrift on a sea of dairy I went.

The very first bit of instruction the recipe gave was to put the cottage cheese through a sieve. I immediately began thinking to myself “Do we have a sieve?” and “I’ve never seen a sieve in the house.” And indeed, we don’t have a sieve, so I started to brainstorm.

After a cursory look through the kitchen, and dismissing things like the cheese grater and garlic press as either too messy or too time intensive respectively, I settled on a wire colander. I poured the cup of large curd cottage cheese into that colander, threw on a rubber glove, and started pressing it bit by bit through the drainer. I can’t say this was a fun task. The colander wasn’t ergonomically designed to have cheese pressed through it, and my hand started seizing up before long. That may be the saddest thing I’ve ever admitted, but you know.. there it is.

I also had this sneaking suspicion that the drainer didn’t quite make the cottage cheese as smooth as it was supposed to be. When I relayed this portion of the story to the TM later on, without missing a beat, she was all “Food processor. Duh”.

I’ll just sit here being ashamed.

The next step in the process was to combine the sugar, egg yolk, milk, and gelatin in a double boiler until it was all dissolved.

Do we have a double boiler? Nope.

This wasn’t as big a problem since I’ve improvised them before for melting chocolate and whatnot. I ended up using 2 separate sauce pans of different sizes. The biggest problem I had during this step was that I didn’t realize that the main light that illuminates the stove area was out, and I had a really tough time determining the progress of the concoction. This wasn’t really that big an issue, but it was at least a challenge in the moment.

The next steps were pretty straightforward. You know.. the usual:

Mix the cream cheese and cottage cheese and lemon juice until smooth and “fluffy”.
Mix in the gelatin mixture.
Whip the egg white into stiff peaks and incorporate.
Whip the heavy cream into stiff peaks and incorporate.

All of those things are easy, and nothing new. In fact, the remainder of the assembly went smoothly.

I buttered the pie pan as instructed (as preparation for the later flipping) and spread an entire carton of blueberries around the bottom. This was, in fact, the “crust” of this crustless cheesecake. The concept here was that once the cheesecake set, I’d be able to seamlessly flip it over, and have this beautiful cheesecake with this amazing topping of blueberries somewhat embedded into the top, and also a bit softened and sweetened by the process.

I went to bed with at least middling hopes that I could pull it off. I had a fairly lofty expectation that that aside from the strange grainy texture of the entire thing (created by the improper smoothing of the cottage cheese), the cheesecake would be a hit, much like most of the confections from my past. Some of which have been immortalized right here in print.

I even tasted the “batter” off the spatula, and was at least relatively optimistic that the flavors and the flipping would win out.
Anyway, cheesecake sat, and it chilled, and the gelatin set. All overnight.

The next evening, we made preparations to head over. The TM was all “alright.. let’s flip this bitch.” And I was all “Uh… I… uh… I don’t think we should yet. Maybe [The Burly Amigo] will help when we get to their house.”

The TM looked at me skeptically, but shrugged, and was all “Alrighty.” I could see the disappointment in her eyes. That look where she’ll forever know I’m a pussy when it comes to flipping cheesecake.

I believe in that moment she knew we’d never be flipping any damned cheesecake that night. And she was right.

By the time we got over to the [Burly and Gluten-Free Amigos (GFA)] home, the cheesecake had softened a tad, and warmed, and my courage had entirely dissipated. I talked it over very briefly with Burly Amigo (BA from here on) and BA was all… “Yeah… maybe we better not. I’m sure it’ll be good as is.”

With that, we ate dinner, had some beer, and sat around the bonfire for a while. Maybe a little too long, as by the time we got around to wanting the dessert, the cake had softened a bit more, and it didn’t hold shape well at all. Certainly this made the notion of flipping it a laughable one, but even more disappointingly it made the integrity of each piece fairly tenuous too. Gloopy even.

I’m not gonna go through the play by play from here. The cheesecake was consumed politely, mostly. The BA didn’t seem to like blueberries (I could KICK myself because it certainly could be pretty much ANY berry), and I was completely put off by the texture. And the GFA seemed to choke some down, but let’s be clear. Nobody, including me, clamored for seconds of any kind.

I’d call it the worst attempt at a dessert I’d ever made. Certainly, the texture was unappetizing. It was a failure of execution, made worse by my pussery. I believe that had I made an attempt at flipping it at home, and failed, we would have at least successfully made it to the grocery for a replacement. If I’d unsuccessfully flipped it at the home of the Amigos, I would at least have had a good story.

As it is, I had a fairly run of the mill cheesecake with decent flavor, but fatal texture. Like… seriously, it’s no good.

At least in the future I’ll know to use the food processor. Or maybe we’ll by a fucking sieve.

And lord willing I’ll have the balls to flip the bitch.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sports Fans are Dumb

Anyone who has ever read this blog will know that I'm a big sports fan.

Sometimes I think maybe that's a bad thing, and other times I am pretty sure I'm not nearly as big a sports fan as some people. Sometimes both of those are true at once.

And then sometimes I'm embarrassed for sports fans everywhere, and I think that maybe we should all take some stock in our lives.

I was just reading an article about how a football recruit to The University of Michigan tweeted a picture of himself setting fire to a recruiting letter sent to him by Ohio State University.

If the actions of this kid make you angry, you should just stop reading, and reevaluate what matters to you. If the actions of this kid make you want to kill him, you should stop reading, and seek help. If the actions of this kid make you not only want to kill him, but feel the need to let him know that... Please... PLEASE stop reading and turn yourself in to the institution. They're looking for you.

Sound crazy? It is crazy, absolutely. And yet... according to this article the kid is receiving death threats from enraged Ohio State fans. This is patently insane. There are so many things wrong with it that if I have to enumerate them, I'll be here all day (and really, should I need to?).

Of course Ohio State has come out and denounced the death threats. Oh wait... no they haven't. That's fairly typical for OSU who (if you'll excuse me, oh friends to the North) are not typically good about things like contrition and common sense.

I think my favorite part about the article is the OSU recruit who was all "Well... he doesn't need to have his life threatened, but... he DID post that picture, so...."


Sports fans are insane idiots most of the time.

And listen... this isn't an post designed to bash the silly OSU fans. My very own Reds have some of the craziest fans I've ever heard of. The Reds can go on a 10 game winning streak and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd callers to the local sports radio show will be complaints.

The Reds traded for a young pitcher named Mat Latos in the off-season (a smart trade, by the way), and Mr. Latos went out and got beat up a bit in one of his first starts. First off, there are NO pitchers who haven't been hit hard on occasion. Second... Latos is a notoriously slow starter, but like.. baseball is a damned marathon, not a sprint.

So anyway, after this bad start, his wife was harassed on Twitter. His WIFE. That would be like you having a shitty day at your job, and some random person you've never met calling your wife and talking shit to her about your shitty day. There is absolutely NO logic to it. I don't give a shit if you are cousins with Yasmani Grandal (one of the Reds traded for Latos), there's no reason to talk shit to a dude's wife. Really, there's no reason to talk shit to anyone, Mat Latos included. Incidentally, Latos has been fucking NAILS the last 5 weeks, so all that hand-wringing and dick-baggery was for naught. Good job.

Oh, and this isn't a state of Ohio thing either.

One of the most interesting stories from the past couple of years in sports is about the insane person who was a big enough University of Alabama football fan to name his kid BEAR. This idiot decided to take it upon himself to ruin one of the great and long-standing traditions of Alabama's rival Auburn University.

For a hundred years, after every Auburn victory, the entire fan base on campus convened around this piece of real estate on the Auburn campus and celebrated around these two ancient and giant oak trees.

Well, this Alabama douchebag poisoned the trees.

And then he called and bragged about it on the radio.

And then, in case you were wondering how the average Alabama fan feels about him, he was a guest of honor at a dozen Bowl parties this past January while the Crimson Tide won another National Title.

I should mention he's currently getting ready to stand trial for the felony he committed (and somehow pleaded "Not Guilty" to despite his recorded, unsolicited confession on the fucking radio).

Listen... I just don't get it.

When the Reds won the World Series in 1990, it was the greatest moment of my young life to that point. It's still high on the list, despite the fact that it's essentially a foggy memory at this point.

When Kenyon Martin broke his leg, I was devastated. When the Bengals lost to the Niners in 89, I cried. I LOVE my teams. I care about my sports. Anyone who watched my Facebook posts this past March when I had several Near-Breakdowns at the hands of my UC Bearcats will know that I care about my teams.

I'd never threaten to kill a 17 year old for torching a recruiting letter. I'd never light a cop car on fire *Cough* UK fans *Cough*. I'd never kill my rivals special trees.

If you're a fan that would, I'm just gonna go ahead and tell you to maybe sit the next one out, Champ.

You make me sad.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Making of The Muchacho

Many have asked what the origin of "Beefy Muchacho" is, and I must admit...

It's not all that glamorous.

From 2003 to 2006 I worked for a "Do-it-Yourself" web design company as a tech support associate. One of the things we were tasked with as IT guys was to create our own websites in order to both familiarize ourselves with the system, and also help with troubleshooting problems.

My buddy Alan had an e-mail address that involved the name "Brawny Hombre". This is essentially an ironic self-glossing, as he's wiry (sinewy?) and very, very white. So, you know... calling himself the Brawny Hombre in an e-mail address was funny to him. Still is.

Anyway, when it came time for him to make HIS website, he thought it through for a grand total of 30 seconds and settled upon This made me laugh, and we were good pals, and we thought it would be cool if there was some sort of internal consistency. I mean... nobody would ever see these websites besides us. So, I went to a thesaurus and searched for synonyms for "Brawny".

"Beefy" seemed to be the funniest choice (and less ironic for me than Brawny is for him), and I thought it just went well with "Muchacho". was born.

That's... pretty much it. I just thought it was funny, and I've sort of built it from there, and run with it far more than any truly sane person. In the meantime, I've created logos and personas and had my car personalized, and my shoes...

Alan and I were talking earlier (Still very good friends), and he brought up how funny it is how it started with his lark of an e-mail address, and it really doesn't have any hidden meaning.

It could have been him.

I then made the analogy that he's like the Winklevoss twins, and I'm Mark Zuckerberg. He maybe had the idea, but I  ran with it.

Maybe perhaps I've run with it past a sane degree... Evidence of that?

I just got my Beefy Muchacho tattoo.

I figure that being the Beefy Muchacho has been very good to me, so even if it fades into obscurity at some point, I'll be glad to remember the days of The Beefy Muchacho.

Here's a time lapse film of the tattooing itself. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

It's About People

I had a thought earlier that went a little something like this:

“Muchacho… It’s been a while since you riled folks on your blog. Why not tackle the subject of gay marriage?”

I guess I may as well start with the crux of it, right?

I am unequivocally in favor of gay marriage. I am also straight.

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot in the past week or so, because first the state of North Carolina banned gay marriage, and then President Obama spoke out in support of it. Here’s what he said:

"I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together; when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that 'don't ask, don't tell' is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”
Really, I think this is beautifully said. I had someone say to me on Facebook that President Obama would say anything for votes, and you know… maybe that’s true, but I also think that he could find better quotes to work toward that goal. Far more people would be swayed by him coming out in support of looser gun laws, or by him stating that he’s “pro life”, or by him.. you know… turning white. (Should I delete? Naaahhhh). I’m not sure that being an advocate for gay rights has ever really been a swing issue. Overwhelmingly, the people who are FOR gay rights are already going to be voting for him. It’s actually conceivable that he LOST votes from the conservative, Christian African Americans.

All that is fine, but you know… for the life of me, I’ll never understand why people are so adamantly against Gay marriage. Or why they care. Or why people are so threatened by the very idea of it. So much that republicans made it a ballot issue in every swing state in 2004.. You see, they knew that the best way to get people to come out to vote was to cater to their most basic bigotry, and you know.. while they were there they may as well vote for the Republican.

I do try to understand. I try very hard.

Most people saying they’re against it say that it’s a religious thing. Or they’ll say that it “destroys the institute of marriage” or that “legalizing gay marriage would open the door to other deviant behavior (such as bestiality and polygamy).” or that “allowing gay people to get married will encourage people to be gay” or that “the bible condemns homosexuality” or that… well, that’s enough for now.. Let’s tackle them, yes?

“Gay Marriage Destroys the Institute of Marriage”

I actually heard a different variation on that. A guy I worked with long ago once told me that he was against gay marriage because that would make his marriage less special, somehow. That he viewed marriage as a special club, and that if they started letting more people in, it wouldn’t be as exclusive.

I see this as essentially the same argument, at least in spirit. What I’ve always failed to understand is that folks are more than happy to hurl the “wrecks the institution” bomb at just about the drop of a hat when it comes to gay people getting married, but they always seem to conveniently ignore all those straight people who constantly slap the precious institute of marriage right in its face. Like Britney Spears who’s been married twice, (Including once for just a shade over 2 days), and is engaged for a third time. Or Kim Kardashian who was married for a hair under 3 months, and essentially admitted it was a stunt for television. I’m just bringing up famous people because we all know the stories, but there are just as many people who run off and marry a stranger in Las Vegas after a night of heavy drinking, or they get married and divorced within weeks, or you know.. all kinds of real tributes to the institution of marriage.

I can understand why people would prefer those paragons of heterosexual virtue over two committed individuals who truly love each other. Totally makes sense to me.

Rush Limbaugh recently said “"We've arrived at a point where the President of the United States is going to lead a war on traditional marriage."

I can see his point, you know.. Rush is, after all, a huge supporter of traditional marriage. He’s been married four times.

“Legalizing gay marriage would open the door to other deviant behavior such as bestiality.”

To make this argument, you have to make the presumption that homosexuality is a perversion or a deviance on par with bestiality. That is… dumb. I’m sorry, but it is. The biggest difference between these two acts is, or should be obvious. It’s consent. A dog can not choose to have sex with a human. A dog is a creature of instinct. Humans have the free will to choose. That’s, essentially the reason pedophilia is illegal too. A child can’t make that decision. That’s why it’s abuse and not love. Two adult men or two adult women can choose just as easily and logically as one of each.
Secondly, to say that gay marriage is somehow some sort of gateway to perversion is completely baseless. I know gay men and women, and to my knowledge none of them have ever wanted to sleep with their dog, or marry their cat, or say naughty things to their parrot. Gay marriage presents no more a precedent for marrying a dog, than does so-called traditional marriage. It just doesn’t. Do you know why? Because we’re talking about things that aren’t connected. It would be just as logical to say that reading the obituaries every Tuesday will make it rain in Syracuse.

“Allowing gay people to get married will encourage people to be gay.”

That makes perfect sense. In fact, I can’t believe I never thought of it before, but I need to go hang out at the ballpark. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m throwing a perfect curveball in no time. Don’t worry.. the fact that my knees aren’t any good, and the fact that I haven’t played baseball in 15 years is totally irrelevant. If I hang around some pitchers, I’m sure I’ll end up in the majors soon enough.

“The Bible Condemns Homosexuality”

Well… That’s true. The bible also features:

The Earth is created not once, but twice.
God (the omnipotent being) gets tired
Talking snakes,
Bushes that catch fire, speak, and do not burn.
Rivers turning to blood
Men of insanely old age (Noah was 500 when his sons were born)
Giants roaming the Earth.
People getting turned into salt.

That’s all in the first 2 books.

“Wait Muchacho… Wait wait wait… Those are all stories. Allegorical or metaphorical. They’re not intended to be taken literally. But the LAWS. The LAWS are clear.”

Oh… well that changes everything.

Yes, according to the Book of Leviticus, it is forbidden for a man to lie with another man.

It is also forbidden to eat the fruit from a tree that is younger than 3 years old. It is also forbidden for a man to cut his hair or shave his beard. There’s a passage that says that if you “curse your father or mother “ you should be put to death. There’s a passage that goes into detail about how if a person is a witch or wizard and sends out their spirit that they should be put to death (This particular section is the actual support of the puritan witch trials). Also it says

- Grow two different crops in the same field
- Wear clothes made of different types of fabric
- Have sex with a woman on her period
- If a priest’s daughter is a whore, she should be killed (This also presumes that priests can have children)
- People with deformities or handicaps can’t go to church.
- You can’t eat a beetle, but you CAN eat a locust.
- If a guy has a wet dream while in the army, he has to leave camp until he re-purifies himself.

My favorite- If a guy is getting beaten up, and his wife stops the fight by grabbing the other guy’s balls… you’re supposed to chop her hand off. Seems oddly specific. I wonder if Moses was in need of a bag of frozen peas.

For anyone who says they’re against gay marriage because the bible says it’s against the rules..I would urge please go to their closet and check out how many poly-blends they have hanging on the racks.

Who is the one to determine which rules are valid and which rules are old-fashioned?

This is a fairly straightforward question. If the bible is to be taken literally, as many Christians believe, I wonder why I don’t see more heavily hairy men wandering around. If it’s to be taken and then interpreted, who’s to say whose interpretation is correct?

In the end, we can argue about religion or whatever forever, and because there are a million religions with a million different views, we’ll never get anywhere. I believe what I believe, and you believe what you believe.
The question regarding why it should be YOUR religion that dictates what other people do is a valid one, and one for which you don’t have an answer. A Baptist will say the same thing as a Catholic, and they’ll say the same thing as a Jew. “Because we’re right”. Well… Prove it. There’s no unifying, official faith. People’s religions are as varied as grains of sand, and therefore governing based on religion is impossible.

If only we lived in a country founded on other principles…

Oh wait…

We live in America where there’s a very specific division of religion and government. Despite what many people believe, the USA isn’t a Christian country, at least not governmentally speaking. Some people argue that the Founding Fathers built this country upon Christian values, and they may have personally held certain beliefs, but they were very specific regarding the nature of the USA.

From The Treaty of Tripoli (Ratified in 1797, less than 10 years after the drafting of the Constitution.):

the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”.
Thomas Jefferson was the first to overtly discuss separation of church and state when he wrote:

America shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
There’s also a section where he talks about how religion is between a person and their God, and only them. This is essentially my position regarding prayer in public schools. There’s a great distinction between being against prayer and being against public school mandated prayer. This is a distinction that is often ignored… I’m digressing. (Full disclosure… I had 12 years of Catholic school. 8 of which included multiple daily prayers.)

My point of all of this is that marriage being legal in the United States business isn’t REALLY an issue of religion, or at least it shouldn’t be. There are two kinds of marriages, and the law is only concerned about one.

If the Tofu Muchacha and I went to a Shawnee medicine man and had him “marry us”, the only folks who need to recognize that marriage are Me, The TM, and the Shawnee people. On the other hand, if the TM and I went to the courthouse and had a judge marry us, the only people who need to care are me, the TM, and the Government of the US.
Do you see the distinction?

You see… when people get all upset about gay marriage being legal or not, I don’t understand, because it has absolutely nothing to do with them. It doesn’t have to do with their religion. It doesn’t have to do with the sanctity of their religious marriage. It doesn’t have to do with them in any way. It would be like me telling my neighbor he wasn’t allowed to put up a basketball hoop in his driveway because I hate basketball.

It only has to do with those two people having the same LEGAL rights in the United States as any other 2 people. The United States is a country founded by folks who rebelled against an unjust governing body. People who were not given the same legal rights as their countrymen across the Atlantic. Oddly, I see a lot of connection.

Look… My stance Is this:

If your religion forbids gay marriage, fine. That’s on you. If you think it’s an abomination, fine. That’s also on you.

The laws of the United States are adjustable exactly because our founders had the foresight to know that times change. They knew that the people writing the laws were human, and could not possibly be expected to be exactly just at all times. They created avenues for course correction.

- Married women were not legally permitted to own property under their own names in all states until 1900.
- It wasn’t until 1975 that married women could have credit in their own name.
- Interracial marriage wasn’t allowed in many states until the 1960s. It was illegal in the state of Alabama until the year 2000.

Times change. Laws should correct to become MORE just, not less.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My Titanic Blog

 The makings of a much more interesting film.

[Editors Note, written immediately before posting]
I haven’t seen
Titanic since December of 1997. That’s on purpose. I’ve accidentally seen random scenes here and there on TV, but other than that, my memory of the film is ENTIRELY based on my recollection from that one, single viewing. I wrote this blog over the course of a couple of weeks, and I discussed some of my points with some known Titanic fans throughout the process. I’ve come to realize that some of the details of my arguments (specifically relating to the ins and outs of the specific plot) are possibly not entirely accurate. I’ve decided to leave the points as-is, and am planning a follow-up post where I re-watch the film in its 2D entirety, and adjust my opinions as needed. I promise to be honest with my re-assessment.

Okay, so it’s no secret that I think Titanic is just about the worst. I’ve stated it on numerous occasions. I’m not trying to hide the fact.

I guess I just always assumed that I’d established my full argument as to WHY I feel that way, and looking back through the blog, I realize I never really have.
My friend Annie, who has appeared as a guest blogger here before when talking about Disney, has thrown down the gauntlet, and essentially accused me of hating it only because it’s popular.
Being a Muchacho of honor, I have decided to finally and officially break it down. I assure you that Titanic’s popularity is only a small reason I hate it.

First off… I don’t hate Justin Bieber. I don’t hate Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry or Avatar. At most, I have no real opinion at all of Bieber. I can’t name a song of his, I didn’t see his movie. My only thought about Justin Bieber is that he makes me feel old. I always have this sneaking feeling that if I were 17 I would understand his deal, and I feel like I’m so far removed from knowing his deal that it sort of depresses me.
Avatar… If I’m being honest, I have to say I don’t get it. I mean… I liked it as much as the next guy, but I don’t get why this movie earned more than any other movie ever. Despite that disconnect, I have no real negative feelings about it. If it had beaten The Hurt Locker for Best Picture, I’m fairly sure my perspective on the movie wouldn’t change. I’d certainly yell and rant that it didn’t deserve to win Best Picture, but I do that with Chicago also, and I like Chicago just fine.
I guess the heart of this first point is that I’m not anti-populist. I am no hipster who intentionally seeks out only the most obscure and off-the-beaten-path movies to like. Shit… My favorite movie of 2012 so far was The Hunger Games, which is arguably targeting the same people that Titanic targeted 15 years ago.

Titanic’s popularity isn’t what makes me hate it, and more importantly, it’s not what makes me argue that it’s actually not good. It’s part of what makes me argue that it’s the worst movie ever made, but I’ll get to that…
I guess I have two separate arguments, really… The first is that Titanic isn’t a good movie, and the second is that Titanic is the worst movie ever made.

That sounds like varying levels of the same premise, but really they’re very different, because while there are a million terrible movies made every year, there’s rarely a movie, no matter how bad it is, to merit consideration in the “Worst of All Time” race.

Let’s start off with why I think it’s a bad movie…

1) The main characters are almost entirely unlikable.

Jack Dawson is a smug little d-bag who you’d likely want to punch if you met him in real life. He’s the guy who sings “I Gave My Love a Cherry” and says all the right things, and offers to draw her. Amazingly he’s awesome at guitar and he’s awesome at drawing, but certainly that is merely coincidental to his volunteering.

The Kate Winslett version of Rose is okay I suppose. Sure, she’s flighty, but she’s young and it’s Kate Winslett, so it’s to some degree forgivable. Although, the fact that she tolerates Billy Zane for even a half a second makes her unlikable by association alone. HOWEVER… that old lady version of Rose is the absolute WORST. Think about this for a second… That old crone dragged a whole team of scientists out into the middle of the North Atlantic to search for “The Heart of the Ocean”, when she really had it the whole time. And then, once they decided it was a lost cause, she tosses it! How many millions of dollars did that damned expedition cost? Just so she could hitch a ride to say farewell to the love of her life who she knew for two whole days. Blech… I hate that old lady. Thank god Britney Spears’ astronaut boyfriend retrieved it for her, or that priceless artifact would still be at the bottom of the ocean.

Oh… and maybe it’s a personal objection, but I feel like the relationship between Jack and Rose could have existed just as easily without the existence of Billy Zane at all. They could have given her some other hoity-toity rich girl issue that Jack breaks down, but instead they just make her a girl who cheats on her fiancé (odious as he may be), and that seems unnecessary and unseemly.
2) The tertiary characters aren’t much better.
The Italian guy who might as well go around the whole movie going “Thatsa bigga pizza pie!”, or Kathy Bates as Molly Brown, the most broadly painted character in history. Or the aforementioned Billy Zane, who may as well have been wearing a Snidely Whiplash mustache he was so fucking evil. There’s no grey area with any of the characters. The Italian guy is merely Italian. Molly Brown is a damned quote machine. Billy Zane is only missing the railroad tracks and rope.

3) The movie is way too long.
I’m sorry… but it is. Three hours and fourteen minutes. We’re not talking about The English Patient, a love story that spans years. We’re talking about a movie that lasts longer than the actual sinking of the ship. If the writing was good, or if the characters were super charismatic, I’d give it more leeway, but it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong… I don’t shy away from an epic. I love all three Lord of the Rings movies, and they’re all longer. Again, though… the justification for that is that the story spans months of time. It takes place in a hundred locations. The books are hundreds and hundreds of pages. What it always struck me is that Cameron was TRYING to make something big and long and epic. It was a show-off thing. It was also a lazy thing, because maybe a couple fewer loving shots of the boat (that look like matte paintings anyway) and maybe one or two fewer annoying scenes between Rose and Billy Zane… You may have yourself the start of a picture. Oh… and the framework scenes with Bill Paxton, at his absolute worst, talking to the old lying lady… terrible. I don’t care.

In the end, the only explanation for it is that Cameron is overly self-indulgent (Also potentially explaining Avatar’s GIANT run time. I mean… learn to use AVID for fuck’s sake.)

4) There are a lot of manipulative movies, none quite as overtly so.
I’ve often said that the movie is manipulative, and I stand by that. There was a counterpoint made that a lot of movies are manipulative, and yes… that’s totally true. The Pianist is a decent movie that loses points because a lot of its emotion stems from it being set during the Holocaust. That’s like hitting a ball off a tee. It’s easy to make people cry about one of the worst things to ever happen on the planet. One of my favorite movies, Saving Private Ryan, includes a scene at the end that is acutely designed to make a person weep. The primary difference is that while there are manipulative scenes in most movies, Titanic seems to be set to manipulate and steer through every scene from start to finish. One would argue that this is called “Directing” and as a theatre director myself, I can see that logic, but sometimes the better choice is to let the material do it’s own talking. Presenting something simply can be just as powerful, and not quite as overtly manipulative. I’m talking about watching Thomas Andrews setting his clock, or the old couple cuddling on the bed as the water fills the cabin, or the all of the lingering shots of the poor people drowning. I get that many of those things happened (poor people dying) or may have happened (nobody fucking knows about Andrews, besides that he went down with the ship, like most men on board, and those old people are pure fiction.)… That leads me to…

5) Something about it feels gross to me.

The Titanic was a real ship. With real people. Who really died.

“But wait, Muchacho… What about: Glory, Gettysburg, Saving Private Ryan, EVERY WAR MOVIE EVER?”

Yeah, that’s true too. Except that I kind of feel like every one of those movies is primarily about those events, or honoring those events in some way. I have always felt like Titanic was James Cameron’s project ABOUT a love story that happens to take place on The Titanic. I just feel like it’s somehow disrespectful. And when you lionize fictional (and unlikeable people) while there are real, and powerful stories to actually tell… it just feels like you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. On the one hand, you want to show off how historically accurate you made the ship, and how much you care about deep sea archeology. On the other hand, you ignore a hundred compelling TRUE stories and completely make one up about a slick, boyish con artist and a overly privileged rich girl who also cheats on her fiancé.

Maybe I’m wrong, but it just feels icky.

In fairness, I also felt that way about National Treasure when Nic Cage was tossing the Declaration of Independence around, and shooting up Liberty Hall. It just gives me the willies.

So anyway… that’s the primary thrust of part one of my argument that Titanic is not a good movie. I have other, more petty, less reasoned…um… reasons, but I don’t want to like…go on and on when I’m maybe only about halfway through.
Now, on to how I can possibly call this movie, even if we’re all accepting that it’s bad, the Worst Movie of All Time.

This is a more complicated premise, because, well… there are some horrific movies out there, and it’s very difficult to make the argument that Titanic, a movie with undeniable technical prowess, and clear talent can be worse than a movie like Manos: Hands of Fate, or Plan Nine from Outer Space. Both measurably bad movies.
In fact, almost all evidence regarding Titanic would lead me to the counter argument, that it is, in fact, the GREATEST movie ever made. It won Best Picture and Best Director. It made something like 650 million dollars at the box office. Meaning that it was both critically poplular and popularly popular, which I will grant makes my argument possibly silly. Well… it’s my argument, and I’m gonna make it.

Obviously, in order to buy into my opinion that it’s the worst ever, you have to first accept that my primary premise is correct.. that the movie is, in fact, bad. So I’ll assume we agree on that point. Or at least that I swayed you. Hooray!

As I said before, there are a ton of bad movies. My buddy Brawny Hombre would argue that Bad Movies are actually the best movies. He would also argue that movies like Armageddon are bad, and while that may be true, I don’t think he’d argue that it would be in the conversation for worst ever.

What is the difference, then?

Well… in the case of Plan Nine From Outer Space, it’s the sheer, willful, almost GLEEFUL way Ed Wood ignored every facet of the production. Writing. Continuity. Acting. Direction. These were all secondary to “Getting the movie made” and that showed in every frame. When Bela Lugosi died during filming, he merely hired his dentist to walk around with a cape over his face and simply believed nobody would notice. Scenes change from Night to Day to Night depending on what angle he’s shooting from. It’s a train wreck. It’s really, really bad.
In the case of a movie like… Showgirls, the production value was largely fine, but the writing and acting completely sunk it, as did it being fully lacking in even a modicum of self-awareness. It’s so goofy and weird and badly written and acted, but you know that they believed they were making art. It’s the obtuse self aggrandizement that makes it especially bad.

For Titanic, I believe that it boils down to 2 major things.

1) James Cameron fully believes it is the greatest movie ever made, believed it when he was making it, and made it with the intention of it ultimately being that. The mere fact that he set out to do it, and it ended up being bad (as we accepted) puts it in the conversation. I have a problem, as a director, with directors in general overstating their own importance, brilliance, talent, genius, etc… The sort of shameless self promotion turns me right off. Even 15 years later, James Cameron re-released Titanic and acted like he was gifting it on us or something.

I can just picture him saying something like : “I know you’ve been slogging your way through year after year of marginal movies by marginal directors… you know.. aside from my very own Avatar, but not to worry… I’m here to solve your boredom and lift you out of the doldrums of film watching by presenting you… with a movie you’ve already seen a million times. You’re Welcome.”

The whole attitude is off-putting. Michael Bay makes explosion vehicles. He knows it. We know it. He accepts that’s his lot, so when he makes a clunker, we laugh and it goes away, and then he makes another movie with explosions, and we either like it better or worse than the one before. Michael Bay knows who he is. James Cameron insists on telling us what kind of genius he is, and it pisses me right off. The primary vehicle for him touting his genius is Titanic, which… as I already explained, isn’t even any good.

2) The main reason I believe it’s the worst ever, is because “Worst’ is relative. And Titanic has the greatest (by a country mile) disparity between actual quality, and purported quality.

Ed Wood liked Plan Nine, but he never said it was a masterpiece. Oliver Stone would never call Alexander his best film, unless he was just being belligerent (a real possibility).

There are many movies that, in a vacuum, are far worse than Titanic, but the claims to greatness… the utter insistence from the legions of fans that it’s the BEST MOVIE EVAR, the willful ignorance of any type of disputation, the OUTRAGE and SHOCK when a person even deigns to suggest it isn’t the GREATEST movie ever made automatically makes the chasm between actual quality and purported quality so great that no other movie can match it.

So that’s my argument. Titanic is the worst strictly in terms of proportion. If Titanic had simply been presented without comment, and had lived a fairly quiet life, I may have very different feelings of it. Even if it wasn’t quiet, and still made a crapload of money, like Avatar, but didn’t hold itself out there as being so fucking fantastic…

You could say that part of this argument is that the popularity of it makes me not like it, but that’s a real oversimplification, because there are tons of movies that I love that are also popular. And books. And TV shows. I love Pirates of the Caribbean. I love DISNEY movies. I love The Hunger Games. None of those would lose a popularity contest.

I hate that Titanic is so popular because it is bad. I don’t think Titanic is bad because it is popular. So I dunno… Maybe it is exactly what it looks like.