Wednesday, November 22, 2017

'Neath the Cover of November Skies

Not gonna lie, I like a man with range.

And that Scott Wichmann has range to spare. It's been so long I can't even remember when I first saw him onstage and though I've seen him dozens of times since, he never fails to dazzle, chewing scenery and singing with a voice that belies his height.

He'd dubbed his show tonight at Richmond Triangle Players "Leave Them Wanting Less" and with a three piece combo backing him up (including the always stellar Scott Clark on drums), he pretty much succeeded, although I'm pretty sure the devoted crowd would have stayed as long as he was willing to sing.

My seat was in the second row, off to the side, making for a fine view that included a canoodling couple in front of me and easy proximity to theater friends in the row behind.

Appearing from the back of the theater, Scott bounded to the stage and started right in with Van Morrison's "Moondance," singing, snapping his fingers and reminding us that it was a marvelous night to listen to him, too.

It immediately became clear that all his song choices had personal reasons behind them. His first date with his wife had been to see "Muppets Most Wanted," so he did "I Can Get You What You Want" and then bragged he'd already gotten her the dog and the ice cream cone and he was working on the moon.

No indication whether he intended to lasso or acquire it otherwise.

In 2003, he'd gotten a message from a director saying he had the perfect role for him ("It's probably Hamlet," he cracked), which turned out to be the lead in "Batboy, the Musical." Before singing a song from it, he quipped, "The play ran during Isabel when people didn't have power, but Firehouse was on a good grid so people came for the air conditioning and it sold out!"

I remember that production because my then-boyfriend suggested we go, only to find out it was sold out. As a consolation prize, he took me to see it while we were in London, which was pretty wonderful, albeit absent Scott.

There was a Mel Torme (one of his heroes, along with Sinatra and Bobby Darin) arrangement of a song from "The Nutty Professor" and a sweet tribute to his wife who's been away for a while ("Don't Dream of Anybody But Me") and tonight was sitting in the back.

"I love the feeling of being in the middle of the Great American songbook," he enthused to a roomful of people feeling the same without having to do any of the work.

Then he moved into hilarious mode for a couple songs, beginning with the favorite song of an older friend called "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park," complete with skipping and tossing out poisonous bits to the birds as he sang about strychnine and arsenic. In a nod to the fact that he was performing on the set of "The Santaland Diaries," next came a holiday classic he first heard as a 15-year old listening to Dr. Demento on the radio.

Whip me, Santa Claus
Spank me, Santa Claus
Don't worry if my flesh be seared
I should be harshly punished
For being bad all year
Choosing the correction is solely up to you
But I would like a reddened butt
Do what you have to do

Periodically as he sang, he'd face the drummer and raise his coat jacket enough to provide easy access to his backside. The audience roared. For "You've Got a Lot to See" from "Family Guy," he had us laughing so hard some of us missed lyrics.

The PC age has moved the bar
A word like "redneck" is a step too far
The proper term is "country music star"
You've got a lot to see

That's a big part of the Wichmann charm: he doesn't just sing anything, he acts and sings everything. Midway through the American standard "Skylark" when the pianist began a solo, Scott sat down on the floor and gazed at him raptly.

During intermission, I chatted with fellow theater regulars about the trend toward plays without intermissions, musing about the causes for it. Someone posited that it's an attempt to woo younger audiences with shorter attention spans, another complained that it hurt bar sales.

I was introduced to a woman, a devoted beer drinker, who'd just recently started drinking cocktails. Tonight was her first Cosmo ("I'm buzzed," she admitted when asked if she'd liked it) and her plan for next time was to have a Blue Lagoon. You've got to admire a woman with a plan.

Scott came back swinging with "Settle for Me," from a TV series I'd never even heard of (not that that's saying much) and using all his acting ability to sell it.

Settle for me
Darling, just settle for me
I think you'll have to agree
We make quite a pair
I know I'm only second place in this game
But like 2% milk or seitan beef
I almost taste the same

Then he got all serious on us, saying there's so much tumult and bad stuff happening in the world, so it was a good thing that we'd come out to hear some music and be with people. Just as we were buying into his solemnity, he launched into "From Russia With Love," ending by turning in profile and crouching with an imaginary gun. The crowd about lost it.

That song took us on a tangent about the Columbia Record and Tape Club where you'd send them a penny and get 13 records or tapes and then be indebted to them for the rest of your life. After scoring a penny from his Mom, one of young Scott's 13 records had been a selection of James Bond movie themes.

"So while the other kids were out playing football or baseball, I was singing Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice" in my backyard. That led me to where I am today," he joked, but probably everyone in the room was grateful for that penny.

As a proud member of the Navy Reserve, he dedicated "I'll Be Seeing You (In All the Old Familiar Places)" to his retiring commanding officer and everyone in the Greatest Generation who'd won the war at home.

I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you

"I'm So Lucky To Be Me" went to "all the people who come up to me in the grocery store and say, hey, I saw you in that play or, hey, I thought you were taller! This song is about how you make me feel."

The song he sang for his estranged biological father who died this summer left him in tears, so he moved right into one about driving to Cape Cod, tying it into his Massachusetts childhood. The satirical "Entering Marion" managed to combine a road trip with enough sexual innuendo about townships to be full-on comedy.

Explaining that there were two basic truths - he would never play Alexander Hamilton on Broadway and we would never get tickets to see it, so as a matter of public service, he was going to perform "My Shot" and play all the characters.

Of course he nailed, right down to the distinctive accents and mannerisms of each of the participants and the show ended. At least until the standing ovation dictated that he return for an encore.

Turns out his last role in high school had been against actress Elizabeth Banks, so he took his next song from that. "This song is my personal musical statement," he said and began singing "The Impossible Dream." Goosebumps.

Classic songs, unlikely songs, hysterical songs and moving songs and not one pigeon harmed in the making of this song fest. Who could ask for anything more?

As for wanting less, I don't know that anyone left with a reddened butt, but I didn't check, either.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Scores of Thanks

It's only the start of the week and I'm already sensing a thankful theme.

Walking the pipeline, I smelled a fire before I saw anyone, which is not all that unusual. I've seen guys cooking food over an open fire, I've seen them washing their clothes in the river and hanging them on branches to dry, seen them washing face and hands in the river.

But today topped them all. Looking down from the walkway, I saw a guy with a hand mirror held high in his left hand and a pair of scissors in his right, as he went about trimming his nose hairs on the banks of the James. And these weren't small scissors, so his couldn't have been small nostrils.

He's probably thankful to have what he needs to groom, while I'm thankful I don't have to groom in public.

For dinner, I chose Rapp Session because they've initiated a Monday movie night and what else could they show this week other than "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" and the John Hughes gem, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles?"

I settled at a hi-top table so I could have a stool with a back for viewing comfort and the bantering bartender came over to bring me whatever libations and foodstuffs I required. When I mentioned I'd come for the movies, he was thrilled, making me think I was the first.

Waiting for the entertainment to commence, I asked for orgeat lemonade and a dozen Old Saltes to get me going. Before long, the manager went over to ask the bartender if anyone was there for the movies and he apparently pointed to me.

"She was so excited to hear that," he told me on the sly, confirming my suspicion that I was it.

But then he tried to joke it off. "We've got scores of people here for the movie," he claimed, but when I challenged him on "scores," he said, "Well, I'm counting everyone in the bar and somehow 13 becomes a score or two." Like I said, he was quick with the quips.

That said, once "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" got started and I was tucking into smoked bluefish dip and crackers, everyone at the bar and the staff was glued to the screen. What was funny for me was that I had no recollection of the story whatsoever, as if I'd never seen it. It came out in 1973 (Woodstock was in it), so it's possible I hadn't, but it unfolded for me as if it were new.

The bartender was as into it as I was, commenting, "Man, I forgot how good the soundtrack is for this. It's Vince Guaraldi, right?" Not only that, but the best piece, "Linus and Lucy," came directly from "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

And how is it I'm just now noticing that Peppermint Patty is destined to grow up to be a gym teacher?

As part of the movie theme, there was a popcorn maker on the front counter and red and white striped plastic popcorn holders ready to be filled and taken to your viewing station. I didn't hesitate to grab one and several of the staff helped themselves, too, because, hey, it's Monday night and it's slow. That's why there's movie night, right?

As for "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," which I know I saw in the theater in 1987 when it came out, I doubt I appreciated Steve Martin or John Candy's performances like I can now.

What also made it so much fun was that it was a road trip movie that showed travel in the good old pre-technology days. Your flight is grounded? Get in line for a pay phone.

I'd forgotten how masterful Martin is with graceful physical comedy (like Dick van Dyke), not to mention his ability to register strong emotions with so little actual movement. And Candy's ability to play a genuinely decent guy, albeit a schlub who screws up a lot, with a caterpillar-like mustache and clothes that had to have been dated even in the '80s, was a revelation.

Then there's their knock-out chemistry - you can almost see how delighted they are to be playing off each other - which makes both of them better and more believable in their roles. The scene where they wake up spooning in bed, Candy kissing Martin's earlobe is one for the books as they can't assert their manhood quickly enough with talk about the Bears and how their season is going.

You know, just a sweet, funny John Hughes film about a man trying to get home to his family for Thanksgiving any way he can.

Because, let's face it, no one wants to trim their nose hairs anywhere but at home.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Sparks Fly/It Never Ends

That's what I needed, a healthy does of estrogen.

It's not like I hadn't seen music this week. Hell, I'd been out for music Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and now again tonight. It was the kind of music I needed.

When I bought two tickets to see Waxahatchee over two months ago, I had no idea who I might invite to join me in seeing the all-female band on tour for their magnificent new record "Out in the Storm," which, everyone agrees is a meditation on a failed relationship.

I believe in pop circles, they call that a breakup album.

Since I'm the last person to hold such subject matter against an album, I've been listening to it a lot since those sunny, warm days of September gave way to the sharp winds and chilly nights of November. Tonight was the pay-off to hear them live.

It was also Mac's birthday, so who better to share my extra ticket with than the birthday girl, who'd already had two birthday dinners, a visit to the VMFA to see the new Terracotta Army exhibit, birthday cake and a disco nap, all before we met up at 6:45?

We were the first arrivals for the show at Capital Ale House, although the Waxahatchee devoted weren't far behind. We met a pregnant couple who'd seen the band last year when they'd played Cap Ale and another couple who'd discovered them only because she'd heard one song on an online radio station and followed through on looking up the artist because, like them, she was from Birmingham, Alabama.

But I also ran into a good friend and her cute husband, longtime fans of the band who'd seen them at Hopscotch, but then they're cool like that and always see new bands before anybody else. Since I'd last seen her, she'd learned that her Mom had named her after a line in a Barry Manilow song and was still a bit traumatized over that.

We all have our crosses to bear.

Turns out that fabulous Cap Ale show a year ago was the first night of Waxahatchee's tour and tonight was the last, and it had been a non-stop year touring for the all-female band in between. The good news for the capacity crowd (in a room with only a couple tables and chairs tonight, so a standing show, not typical of my experiences at Capital Ale House) was how tight and comfortable the band was with the material at this point.

From the opening of "Recite Remorse," which does the quiet-loud-quiet thing a la the Pixies so well, the band was fully committed to showing off what so much time on the road can do and the crowd of devoted fans - because you're not seeing a band like this on a Sunday night if you have only passing acquaintance with them - sang along, bopped in place or at least stared raptly.

They alternated between raucous '90s-sounding guitar heavy songs and simpler piano-based songs, always with Katie's lovely yet strong voice overtaking the music (and her twin sister Allison providing harmony, guitar and keys) to deliver smart and sensitive lyrics chronicling both relationships and lessons learned.

Death grip on some feigned humility
Effort executed beautifully
My pride clenched tight in my shaky hand
Till I let go and buried my head in the sand

It doesn't matter how much music you've heard lately, when what you need to hear is women playing songs about love and life, nothing else will do.

And if that requires reciting some remorse, so be it. We've all been there.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cheers, Big Ears

It's got to be pretty early in the morning before J-Ward rolls up the sidewalks.

The proof was everywhere when I got home at 1:43 on a breezy, 64-degree November night with signs of life buzzing all around. Next door, a woman is knocking at the front door. Double parked is a pizza delivery guy. A guy is walking down my side of the street, while on the other side, close to a dozen people are milling abut in front of house, red party cups in hand, as music plays from the porch.

Fortunately, I keep similar hours with the people on my block.

When I'd left my house at 5:15 to walk to Lucy's, my next door neighbor was sitting on his porch and called to me, "Hey, you look nice. Got a hot date? I bet you have a hot date." It is to laugh, but I nonetheless assured him I was merely meeting friends for dinner and a play and kept walking.

When I'd suggested Lucy's for dinner, I'd been unaware that Beau and Pru's Mom (who's currently sporting the most gorgeous purple hair) hadn't been there before, which is just short of amazing given how often they/we eat out. Luckily, we had plenty of time to introduce them to one of Jackson Ward's finest.

Beau likes to joke that he has protect himself from his all-female company - aka the intellectual dominatrices, a moniker the three of us are fine with - on outings such as this, but for the most part he handles it as well as can be expected for a mere male.

In the hands-on spirit of the conversation that was already flowing, we began with a bottle of Villa Wolf Rose of Pinot Noir and by sharing a righteous fondue of Boursin and Gorgonzola, into which we dipped fried cauliflower, apple slices and fried croutons. When our server came to check on our progress, Beau (who's been known to pun with impunity) told her to take the empty dish away because we were "fon-done."

He redeemed himself by suggesting a second bottle of Rose as we moved into entrees. Pru and I had both chosen the seared flounder over butternut squash puree with collards and housemade bacon in apple cider vinaigrette (some of the finest collards I've had in a while), while Beau went meatless with Non-Spaghetti and Meatballs (fried artichoke, spinach and avocado balls over sauteed spaghetti squash) and the Purple One had fettucine with braised short ribs.

All around us, Lucy's had gotten crazy busy with people hovering waiting for tables, while we were comfortably ensconced in our booth looking at a dessert menu and feeling no pressure to turn over our table to latecomers. We finished up with a flourless chocolate torte, apple crisp and a housemade ice cream sandwich that Beau attempted to eat with a fork until Pru set him straight about ice cream sandwich etiquette.

She and I used to assume that clueless people had been raised by wolves, but in some cases, it seems they merely lived in Ladysmith and thus had no access to basic civility practices.

We followed dinner with CAT Theatre's production of "Ripcord," a play about two nursing home roommates who try to best each other in terrible ways to win a bet and get the bed with the best sunlight and view. If this is old age, kill me now.

The play began with a warning that it contained mild profanity which had apparently already offended some attendees, although my guess would be that anyone offended doesn't see much theater in this town because that barn door was long ago flung open.

Surprisingly, the audience was probably half millennials, not a typical representation at the theater, with the exception of TheatreLAB. It was kind of refreshing to see. In the row in front of us was a guy with a loud, distinctive laugh who seemed to find almost everything funny and let loose at lines that no one else laughed at.

Some lines - "Why can't people be peculiar anymore?" - were funny, while others - "You're turning into an old lady" fell flat as the two women did awful things (tearing up a grandchild's painting, faking suicide, putting a bogus ad in the classifieds) to each other, presumably because they had nothing better to do. I did wonder if the fact that the play was written by a man had anything to do with how difficult it was to like either of the two unpleasant female characters.

Walking out afterwards, the weather was still as breezy and warm as when I'd first walked over to Lucy's, so it only made sense to head back to Pru's screened porch and see what happened. Intellectual dominatrices-led conversation, that's what happened.

When the wind kept turning on the motion sensor lights outside, Beau gave us a mini-science lesson about motion sensors versus heat sensors. Pru, somewhat of a science nerd herself, explained the theory of bio-mimicry and I did my best to understand. We also had a lesson on lake effect snow and Alberta Clippers, neither of which have much practical application in Richmond.

Discussing their shared bent for sciences, Beau asked Pru if she hadn't been good at biology. "I was exceptional," she deadpanned.

When Beau was found to be in error because of assumptions made, Pru threatened to cut him off. "Please don't take my assumption abilities away!" he pleaded.

Because it's all the news lately, we had to discuss all the men behaving badly, taking it further to the gradations of what men have been getting away with for centuries now. We reached a consensus that sticking an unwanted tongue down a woman's throat is not as bad as grabbing a woman by the you-know-what (incidentally, something that had happened to all three of the women on the porch. All. Three.), not that either needs to happen.

This topic went deep and Beau wasn't always able to participate fully since his gender was the one being skewered and he was quick to admit that there was no justification for bad behavior. But we had to acknowledge how times have changed and what was tolerated then is punishable now.

One of the most satisfying conversations began when Beau pointed out that what we'd been doing for the past three hours - sitting around sharing opinions, making a case for your beliefs, sharing experiences and lessons learned, positing ideas - had been exactly what he'd done in college. "But then I stopped doing it," he pondered. "And now I'm doing it again."

Why, I asked, would you ever stop sitting around exchanging ideas with friends? Trying to convince them of your point? Sharing a point of view they may not have considered? I prefer to live a life where that's business as usual.

Because any intellectual dominatrix will tell you the way to be exceptional is to be peculiar like that.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Pardon My Asking What's New

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final. ~ Rilke

Leave it to me to find reassurance in poetry. Moral: When life throws up roadblocks, find a way around them. And, yes, there's a metaphor somewhere in there.

My first message of the day Thursday was from a Frenchman, wishing me happy Beaujolais Nouveau day. My second was from my parents, asking if I was free for lunch Friday since they'd be in town for a car repair. Granted, I already had Beaujolais Nouveau dinner plans Friday evening, but what's one more meal out?

On that subject, my favorite comment ever was the friend who sincerely asked, "Does your apartment even have an oven?" Well, duh, where do you think I dry my gloves after cleaning snow off my car?

After picking the 'rents up at the dealership out on godforsaken West Broad Street, I drove them right back into the city, past scores of chain restaurants, to take them to Garnett's. Not because there's a sandwich named after me there, although there is (the Bon Vivant), but because I knew the combination of well-made sandwiches and killer desserts would be right up their alley.

What hadn't occurred to me was not just how mobbed Garnett's would be at mid-day on Friday, but how noisy. Dad dealt with it by sucking back a South Street Brewery Virginia Lager while Mom complained about the incessant chatter and unpleasant frequency of the table of millennials behind her, wishing for it to cease and desist.

If there's one demographic they don't spend much time around on the Northern Neck, it's millennials.

But they loved their sandwiches - the Colonel and the Dutch Aunt, which probably somehow reflected their personalities - especially the side of housemade pickles. It took all three of us to conquer a massive slice of crumb-topped blueberry peach pie, but we managed just barely.

Meanwhile, I listened as they exchanged their typical differences of opinion. Dad doesn't hear something said and Mom claims it's because he has selective hearing. He swears she talks so softly no one can hear her and eats like a sparrow. She thinks he talks too loudly and he says he's just making his point. If I've heard them say these things to each other once, I've heard them hundreds of times and I only see them once or twice a month.

Which means they've both heard it all thousands of times. Apparently after 62 years of marriage, there's a fair amount of repeated conversation that's just accepted as part of the bargain. On the other hand, he continues to hold doors open for her and she's always noticing when he requires something.

More belongs to marriage than four legs in a bed. ~ Rilke 

After returning them to the dealership, I had only a brief afternoon to work before meeting Holmes and Beloved for dinner and their annual bacchanal starring Beaujolais Nouveau.

When I strolled into his house, they'd already cracked the first bottle of the young wine. On the counter sat additional bottles for future sipping because Holmes believes it should be consumed in copious quantities while you can get it.

After the ritual toast to the harvest (notably France's overall smallest since 1945), we piled in my car to head to Camden's to check out the new all prix fixe, all the time menu. Naturally, our meal was to be accompanied by the star of the evening, in this case, Manior de Carra Beaujolais Nouveau (but only after a pretty funny exchange with the hostess who'd seated us), although I couldn't resist a celebratory glass of Cava to start.

The hardest part of any prix fixe menu is choosing three courses while observing the paramount rule of dining with friends: no one duplicates an item. We lucked out there because there were so many appealing choices to work from.

For starters, we had a sensational salad of watercress, house bacon and pickled cauliflower in champagne vinaigrette, turkey liver mousse to die for (the grilled bread was just a way to get it to our mouths) and a savory bleu cheesecake with honey that made Holmes, who'd never even heard of such a thing, a believer in savory cheesecakes.

Please, I made my first savory cheesecake when Clinton was eating Big Macs in the White House and people joke about my kitchen? Get with the program, man.

I hadn't gotten together with Holmes and Beloved since the first week of August, so there were plenty of updates on both our sides to discuss. Holmes shared stories and Beloved showed photos from their trek to St. Michaels, Maryland, where they'd done some memorable eating and drinking at an Italian trattoria called Limoncello that they highly recommended.

Don't talk to me about Limoncello unless it's in Sorrento, Italy where the best lemons in the world grow and Limoncello was birthed. I've only been once, but I'm ready to go back any time.

Alas, conversation was derailed when our entrees showed up. He-man Holmes had chosen London Broil and was soon crying uncle about how good it was but how large the portion size. My crispy-skinned pecan-smoked chicken thighs got a nice sweetness from apple slaw, but I could also appreciate the well-cooked black beans and rice that shared the plate.

But top prize went to Beloved's melt-in-your-mouth steelhead trout over creamy polenta and peas, a wondrous combination I intend to return for so I can eat the whole thing rather than just have a couple bites.

Meanwhile, Holmes had heard scuttlebutt and was seeking confirmation, details and rationale. A lot can happen in 3+ months, friend. A good portion of our entree conversation was given over to the Leonardo painting that just sold for $450 million, with Holmes insisting that if turns out to be a fake, Christie's should be fined heavily and put out of business.

When it came time for our final course, the choices were easy but finishing was more challenging after gorging ourselves on the first two courses.

There was no way I was getting anything over than the chocolate butter walnut-crusted chocolate torte I've been devoted to (for, what, 16 years now?) and Beloved got the same. Only Holmes opted for lavender creme brulee and scraped the bowl clean as we finished up the last of the Beaujolais Nouveau.

We rolled out of there determined to have a record-listening party despite our overfed state, only to run into a roadblock as we came across the Lee Bridge. There must have been a dozen cops, lights on and flashing, lined up, along with a sign alerting motorists that a traffic checkpoint was just ahead.

It wasn't that my alcohol level was too high at that point, but we were intent on starting the party, so I seamlessly slid over to the Second Street exit and in no time we found ourselves settled into Holmes' wood-paneled man cave for the next four hours. Beginning with Linda Ronstadt's classic 1983 album, "What's New?" so beautifully arranged by Nelson Riddle, we got off on the unlikely subject of crinolines because of the album cover photograph of her in a strapless pink gown.

From there, we zig-zagged through their Plan 9 and estate sale record finds, which, given Beloved's old soul status and musical taste, meant all kinds of gems from the '50s and '60s. At one point, Holmes presented me with an early Christmas present (Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark"), a shame since that is the sole Joni Mitchell record I already own.

Errol Garner's "Paris Impressions" may have been my first album of harpsichord music by a multi-talented jazz pianist. "The Swingin's Mutual!" by Nancy Wilson and the George Shearing Quintet sounded like a happening 1961 party in Manhattan. We gave Earl "Fatha" Hines' "Live at Buffalo" record a shot but Beloved soon gave it a thumbs down, deeming it not right for a swingin' Friday night.

Holmes took us in a new direction with the Giorgio Moroder-produced Bowie song "Cat People," although somehow, I was the only one of the three who knew who Moroder was. Clearly they'd checked out of popular music by the Flashdance period. As is his habit, Holmes slid in some Stephen Stills via the CSNY classic "Deja Vu."

That's the beauty of a listening party where the host not only has multiple formats - record, CD, cassette - but extensive collections of music for them all. Since we take turns choosing, the fun of it is trying to play something that'll surprise, impress or please the other two.

And the music is really just the background for a wide-ranging conversation about what's going on in everybody's life and the world beyond. Tonight that included the tsunami of men finally being challenged on their inappropriate behavior toward those of us with girl parts.

Beloved shared the recent saga of one of Holmes' friends ostensibly going in for a goodbye hug and groping her like he had a right to. "What the hell are you doing?' she'd accused him. It's barely been a month since a male friend I've known for 6 or 7 years took the liberty of placing his hand inappropriately low on the small of my back (aka the top of my butt), to which I rather rudely asked, "Is that your idea of making a move?" and shut him down.

Friendship has its priveleges, but that's not one. I've got no problem with a man's hand being in that place as long as it's the right man, preferably someone who appreciates that undersung curve.

Love is like the measles. The older you get it, the worse the attack. ~ Rilke

Tonight, the swingin' was mutual, the food was superb and the Beaujolais Noveau was drinkable. I don't know that you could ask for more the day after the third Thursday in November.

Well, of course I could, but I'd be discreet enough to ask for it silently. Final feelings and all...

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Roll Over, Beethoven

Let's be real here: making it to five years is an accomplishment.

If you can also score $10,000 on your fifth anniversary, there's even more reason to celebrate. No, no, I'm not talking about relationships here (though I could) but about the little music organization that could. And did.

After a delightful day in the warmer environs of Norfolk, I got home with barely enough time to shower and make it to the Hof in time to score a ticket for Classical Revolution's Birthday Bash with Beethoven's 5th.

The first people I spotted were Beckham and Beauty, but since I hadn't known I was coming, they hadn't saved me a seat in the front row with them. And by front row, I'm guessing they could have seen the fillings in the cellists' teeth if they'd yawned, they were that close.

I found a seat two rows behind them and chatted them up from there - given our shared affection for South Africa, they were the ideal friends to share the Post write-up about Stellenbosch Vineyards Four Secrets Sparkling Shiraz I was reading - as the crowd wandered in and the room began to fill up with music lovers and the 40 musicians who were about to dazzle us.

Surprisingly, I only spotted a few people I knew: the museum director, the Man About Town, the former neighbor and his main squeeze. While I read the rest of my newspaper (Roy Moore is clearly the serial pedophile from Liarsville), DJ Rattan played his always excellent music choices, nailing Latin gems, obscure foreign pop music and the random Steely Dan song, in that way he does so well.

Once the room was standing room only, Classical Revolution's director Ellen took center stage to talk about the non-profit's original mission to get classical music out of concert halls and into everyday life, where they've succeed at playing in bars and bookstores, cideries and galleries, breweries and theaters, even a pedestrian bridge.

I'm truly sorry I missed that last one. Sounds right up my alley.

She went on to issue thank yous to sponsors, the musicians volunteering their time and talent, supporters and, especially, those who'd showed their love with cash. A local couple had issued a challenge that if CR could raise $5,000 during the week of their anniversary celebration, they'd match the amount.

Today, she said, they'd surpassed their goal, so she turned toward the couple, also in the front row, and joked, "I'm going to take you up on that!" as the man extended what looked like a folded check. Real or not, the crowd went crazy hootin' and hollerin' about the good news.

After reminding the crowd that this was a raw performance - everyone was sight-reading music and there'd been no rehearsal - she introduced conductor Daniel Myssyk. He took up his wand, looked at the orchestra and turned back to us. "The beginning is very tricky, so I need to have this very brief conversation with the orchestra musicians."

Take as long as you need, Daniel. In what seemed like no time, he whirled around and said, "Easy!" and the performance began.

The beginning of Beethoven's Fifth is so instantly recognizable (come on, even cartoon fans know it) that right away, people began reacting.

More than a few closed their eyes, several with their heads back. The Hat followed the music's movement with his entire head. A redheaded woman smiled broadly as she watched. A young girl sat folded on her chair like a pretzel, busy reading a paperback rather than watching the orchestra.

Everyone experiences Beethoven in their own way. I vacillated, sometimes closing my eyes to let it wash over me and other times, focusing on a musician, section or Myssyk, who, by the way, gave good conductor face. No guitarist could have done better at guitar face.

Unlike at a more staid Richmond Symphony concert at CenterStage, this crowd, diverse with Baby Boomers, Millennials and everything in between, wasn't shy about clapping in between movements. The first time, the conductor looked surprised, but he adjusted.

You can't very well play in a bar and not expect some spontaneous reactions. The standing ovation at the end felt as much about the pleasure of hearing the music as a celebration of what Classical Revolution has accomplished in five short years.

Walking out with Beckham and Beauty, we encountered a distraught-looking woman who said in an accusatory tone, "They towed my car!" Without a word, we nodded together in sympathy and kept walking, with Beckham murmuring our thoughts, "The way to prevent that is to park legally."

We'd barely turned the corner when we saw an older couple standing in a business lot and he was testily identifying his missing car to the person on the other end of the line. "It was a Ford FAIRLANE!" No need to shout, sir.

No doubt it was a hell of a buzz kill after that fabulous performance to come out and find your car gone, but like Beckham said, there's ways to prevent that.

Kind of like there's ways to celebrate having made it five years. As a man once told me, "Five years with you will never be enough. I'll need at least 25!"

I say we raise a glass of Sparkling Shiraz to Classical Revolution's next 25 years.

Back to You

The one thing you hate in life is drama, as your core personality is peace-loving. The defining feature of your personality, thus, is sensibility, dignity and wisdom, which you possess in surplus.

Surplus?

The sensible thing to do was get work out of the way first, meaning I met up with Mac (dubbed by a reader as "Mac and Cheese," which I love, especially since Mac detests mac and cheese) in service of my hired mouth.

Once I'd checked that box, we moved on to Ginter Park for House Story, a new combination tour and storytelling event, this time about a beautifully dignified 1912 house with a porch to die for on an acre lot. Running a tad behind, we arrived in the foyer just after the owner began sharing the history of the house with an attentive crowd.

I immediately found a place up against a warm radiator for a saga about the murder that had happened in the yard in 1919 when owner Robert Stolz's son, asleep on the porch on a warm, summer night, heard someone on the property. While it was only a neighbor and friend of his father, the son didn't know that and grabbed a pistol and shot the man three times.

They got him in the house before they realized they needed to get him to a hospital, but the neighbor absolved the boy before he died. Whether 1919 or 2017, readily available guns kill people.

It was a heavy start to the story of a fabulous and huge house - third floor servants' quarters, stand-up attic and basement, brick carriage house - built right on a corner lot on the trolley line. The house had been broken up into a rooming house from the '30s through the '70s, until it was turned into the first Unitarian church of Richmond, sadly with plywood covering the pocket doors and moldings.

A man in the crowd actually recalled going to church there back in the day. The owner said people still knock on the door and ask to walk through because they remember going to services in the house.

After the talk, Mac and I toured the house, agog at how all the moldings, trim and columns had survived in such excellent condition over 105 years ("Good caretakers," the owner insisted).

While looking at old layout maps of Ginter Park when it was a brand new subdivision, a man came up to me smiling and asked, "Did you walk over from Jackson Ward?" like he knew me.

No, I'd driven, but then he jogged my memory about our past conversation on Marshall Street so I'd get his joke. When Mac piped up and said she walked with me, he wan't buying it. "I see her, not you," he insisted. Explaining that back in Mac's unemployment days, she did walk with me far more often, our friend suggested she consider giving up work for walking, but her new car payment demands otherwise.

We parted ways after touring the expansive garden, she back to work and me, because I have wisdom, to Capital Ale House for music. I was surprised when I arrived to see how few people were there for Bedouine, an artist the New York Times said sounded like a future legend, the kind of singer you'll wish you'd seen back in a small venue like the tour she's on now.

I know I'd taken that to heart, especially after hearing the songs produced by Richmond's own Spacebomb, so I was thrilled to snag a table only three back from the stage. In no time, though, the room was at capacity.

The show began with local Andy Jenkins' musical wordplay, accompanied by guitarist par excellence Alan Parker. Favorite lyric: Being with you is like being stoned, I've gotten so good at being alone.

During the break after his set, I was greeted by a musician I hadn't seen in eons and was amazed to hear he'd never been to Capital Ale House for a show, especially given the eclectic nature of their programming. I pointed out that he was overdue and that nothing better was going on in Richmond tonight, so what else would he be doing if he wasn't here?

"Watching Netflix," he deadpanned. "But I can do that later." Hilarious.

Next up was quartet Howard Ivans, led by Ivan Howard, the guy who also gave the world the Rosebuds, a N.C. band I've long admired (and seen several times). Saying tonight is only the second night of this tour, they intended to play us some songs off their new Spacebomb record and then gushed about the talent of the Spacebomb band.

"Those guys really know how to play their instruments," he enthused, before launching into a song called "Denise" about Lisa Bonet and his inability to handle meeting her. The band was a pastiche of sounds with soulful vocals, driving rhythm section and atmospheric guitar that added up to neo-soul-with the occasional alt-country hint.

Favorite lyric: Show me the darkest shadows of yourself.

Things got lively and loud (or perhaps the alcohol was kicking in) during the break, but the second Bedouine walked onstage, acoustic guitar in hand, a hush fell over the room. She carefully set her cup of tea on a music stand placed next to her mic for just that purpose and began seducing the room with her voice and songwriting against a deep blue backdrop.

Just the way she could bend the word "honey" with her warm and emotive vocals was enough to feel your heart twinge. And her lyrics - more like heartfelt poetry - were like a look into her heart and mind. It felt like the world stopped when she began singing "Nice and Quiet."

All of the reasons to keep me at bay
Are the same reasons that I should stay

Despite not feeling up to snuff, she bantered between songs, sometimes with introductions ("This is my love/hate song to California"), other times with disclaimers ("This is not your typical pop song. It's like 1 BPM"). Between songs, she'd serenely sip from her mug of tea.

Announcing she was doing a song so new it hadn't been named yet, she asked for our help in suggesting names. "You have to earn your entertainment tonight." Afterward, when someone suggested "Sunshine, Sometimes," she said that had been her first inclination ("With a pretentious little comma in there") and then someone said "You're Still on my Mind," which had been her second choice (and my first).

About doing "Mind's Eye," she joked, "I've got one record and this is on it. You should buy it." After explaining that the record is only 37 minutes long and her set just a bit longer, she did "You Never Leave Me," a song that had been swapped out at the last moment. "Now that you're all warmed up, maybe someone has a suggestion for a better title?"

You can feel so far, but you never are
You never leave me

On the haunting and self-assured "Solitary Daughter" (a subject I'd know nothing of given my five sisters), she sang, I'm not an island, I am a body of water.

Guitarist Alan Parker returned to play with her for the final two songs, before which she took a sip of tea and said, "One final one for the road."

Several people recognized "Dusty Eyes" as soon as she began it and reacted accordingly. Afterward, she thanked everyone for being "so lovely and attentive" and closed with the enchanting song everyone from NPR to Pitchfork is raving about, "One of These Days."

If it's true that I feel 
More for you than you feel for me
It's stunning, honey, how love has some delays
Cause one of these days our love takes flight
We're gonna get it right
And get it right one of these days.
One of these days, you know I'm gonna set our hearts ablaze
If it's my last living deal

It was stunning. The New York Times had nailed it and I knew I was lucky to be there for such an intimate show.

Confessional tendency aside, I like to think it's not drama if your core personality is peace loving.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Post-Serenade Unctuous Notes

Apparently, there's a presumption that I'm always up for something.

How else to explain three last minute invitations from friends of wildly varying degrees in one evening?

After spending the day at my parents' house, some of it watching the memory lapse-laden testimony of our Attorney General - I kissed them goodbye and headed out the door after his 37th bogus "I don't recall" - I got home to a phone message from an out of town friend and a FB message from an in-town friend.

This is a long shot, but I was thinking of grabbing a bite in your 'hood soon.

Since I had two tickets to an early performance and no date, I welcomed the chance to share music with a musician, inviting X-tina to join me, after which we could have that bite in the 'hood she was desperately seeking.

Driving to the Virginia Holocaust Museum for its 20th Anniversary concert, we discovered that neither of us had ever been to the museum, despite both being interested in doing so and the museum having been open since 2003. Tonight was not the night to do it (the exhibits were closed), so we made plans to make that happen so we can hold our heads up as worthy Richmond culture mavens.

Walking into the Choral Synagogue Auditorium, I would guess we were in the non-Jewish minority, although unlike that time I went to a lecture at the Jewish Community Center, no one approached me to guess, "You're not Jewish, are you?" like they had there.

Seated in the front row were Holocaust survivors while in our section, it was more about older people kvetching until historian Charles Sydnor took to the lectern to welcome us with a moving speech about silence signaling consent and the importance of speaking out against racism and intolerance. Sadly, there were far too many eerie parallels to today.

Next came Tony Morcos, whose great aunt had been a violinist until she was killed in a concentration camp, although she'd handed off her violin - now known by her nickname, Nettie - to a safekeeper before being arrested. That violin was to be played tonight, all these years later, as part of the performance, but first he showed old photographs of his great aunt, often with her violin in hand, and their family during happier times.

I particularly liked one of her with her hot jazz trio, looking very modern and hip.

Performing were the Richmond Symphony's Jocelyn Vorenberg on violin and David Fisk on piano doing works by Jewish composers whose work had been suppressed or banned during the Nazi regime. Surprisingly, for work made during such a dark period, much of it was uplifting, light and beautiful and in the case of "Serenade '42" by Robert Dauber (who died at 20), almost Gershwin-like.

The entire performance was wondrous, watching these two musicians perform against a backdrop of an elaborate, arched, gold, altar-like bema in a high-ceilinged two-story room where the sounds of their instruments seemed to float heavenward as they played music no one had heard live for decades, if ever.

Saying, "You can't end the evening without "Schindler's List," the duo closed out with the heart-wrenching piece and took their final bows.

Even the speeches afterward were moving (Fisk saying, "When words fail, there is music"), with reminders that being Jewish is a cultural identification as much as religious and one with Jewish soul at the heart of its music. X-tina was tearing up and I was feeling privileged to have witnessed such a touching reminder, musical and spoken, of a hideously dark period.

Rather than staying for the reception - because did it really need two non-Jewish, unmarried women? - we made our way back to J-Ward and Saison Market so X-tina could have the burger she'd been craving and I could dive into a bowl of chicken wings with smoked jalapeno and charred pineapple rub. Fernet with ginger was icing on the cake while we commiserated about our love lives and debated the appeal of difficult men.

Not that I have one in my life, unless you look at my wider circle. Although really, in order to rate as a friend, there has to be frequent contact and shared adventures, not to mention hours of conversation. I can't see where I have any male acquaintances who qualify there, so my difficulties will have to come from the most casual of relationships.

You can't end a blog post without a thinly veiled reference. Oh, can't you?