Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I Used My Best Phone Voice, Too

What better use of my unemployed time could I make than volunteering? With that in mind, I spent 3 hours today at WRIR (93.1) as a phone volunteer for their fund drive. I'm pleased to say I took three pledges, 2 messages for the staff and l long-winded call from a woman wanting to know why her radio couldn't hold the signal for 105 point something. I guess she thought all the radio stations are in cahoots and know what's up with each other...or something.

There were a couple other volunteers there when I arrived and, lo and behold, they were both unemployed too. One guy had just been laid off after 34 years with the same company. 34 years!He started that job part-time in high school! It's the only thing he's ever done and now he's got to find another job at 53. He wasn't optimistic but at least he had 6 months of severance pay to tide him over while he looks.

The other guy was 28 and desperately seeking work. Just while I was there, he filled out online applications for 3 different jobs. He said he always followed up submitting applications with calling the company. Daily. Finally one woman told him that she was tired of hearing his voice and not to call anymore. Employment etiquette aside, I don't think he helped his job chances any.

While I was there, a former neighbor came in to make a pledge; turns out he's unemployed also. I was beginning to feel like I was in the Laid Off Twilight Zone, so it was particularly gratifying when a girl came in with her laptop to do some work for her part-time job. Finally! Someone in the room with gainful employment...maybe I should touch her for good luck?

What I learned today: Even in the tough times, people are still giving of their time and limited funds for the worthwhile causes. And WRIR (you know, "radio for the rest of us") is surely that.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oh, It Was Awkward

When I moved into this apartment last month, my next-door neighbor took the time to introduce himself. I've seen him dozens of times since and he always says hello; he seems like a nice guy, polite and not overly friendly.
Today I was getting out of my car just as he was and he smiled and said hi. But then he walked over and started stammering about something. I really had no idea where he was going with this conversation, so I tried to be low-key and just wait for him to get it out. Many verbal detours later, he said, "If my eyes wander too much when I speak to you, I apologize." Um, okay. Honestly, I hadn't noticed him gawking before and he was diplomatic enough to say that he was certain I got a lot of attention everywhere I went, but I found myself at a loss for how to wrap things up.
I decided to assure him that I hadn't noticed any inappropriate staring on his part (because I hadn't), thinking this was the easiest way for both of us to end this conversation. Except that his response was, "You mean I just humiliated myself for nothing?" Well, maybe.
My last try at a save was to tell him that I was just going to take it as a compliment and appreciate his honesty. ..and I assured him women like honesty. He seemed to be okay with that...still, I bet he beats himself up for even opening his mouth.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Note to Self: Don't Miss the Next One

I missed last month's live performance at Ipanema with Liza Kate, so I didn't want to miss this month's set by the Great White Jenkins. I appreciate that RVA News is recording the performance series and posting them online, but I still prefer seeing the bands live (call me old-school).

As it turned out, the band went through its set list and then informed us that they had to re-play the first three songs because they hadn't recorded properly. Ah, technical difficulties...in my former life doing video, I can recall several occasions when we had to sheepishly ask an interviewee if we could redo an interview because of technical issues. And while everyone always agreed nicely, it didn't make us feel any less inept. So I could completely relate to the situation last night...and didn't mind a repeat performance at all.

The crowd was small, maybe because the weekend weather had been so summer-like and everyone had worn themselves out by Sunday night, but it was definitely a bunch of music-lovers. It's hard not to appreciate Matt White's guitar talent, no matter what collection of musicians he plays with. And if you missed the show, it'll be up online at rvanews in a week or so.

And for anyone who appreciates Matt's long, luxurious hair, he claimed last night that he's about to cut it all off (of course, the facial hair stays), not because it's hot (although it's got to be) but because it's just time in the hair cycle. So he said.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Day in the Life

Tuesday nights I usually eat at Six Burner because wine is half price by the glass (with lovely choices) and the food is always great. I had come from the Paul Mellon lecture sponsored by VMFA, "Sisley: The English Impressionist," which was an interesting enough topic. He's thought of as English because of his first name, Alfred, and because he always had British citizenship. It's just that he spent almost his entire life in France, including being born there. Not so English. The woman who sat next to me told her husband when he arrived that she sat next to me because I looked like a good talker. I'm okay with that.

When I got to Six Burner and sat at the end of the bar, a man shouted to me from a corner booth asking if I was the girl in the framed picture sitting on the bar (it was the upcoming jazz singer) . I wasn't, so he apologized profusely. While his dining partner was taking care of business, he came over to me and gave me a $20 bill as part of his apology. This stuff really happens?

Not 20 minutes later, a customer comes in and sits at the bar. The bartender says we're both regulars and introduces us. We're close in age and start chatting. A four hour conversation ensued with a stranger and I was told I was an excellent conversationalist. Such a compliment! I can't think of anything I'd rather be stereotyped as.

Today I actually heard back from a potential employer to whom I had sent my resume.She was telling me that I might be over-qualified for the position and she didn't want to waste my time or for me to get in there and be bored with what I’ve done in the past. But someone considered hiring me...if only briefly. And she's undoubtedly right.

And that's just the last 24 hours.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Magical Night of Movies

My friend Jameson has taught me to appreciate the silent film, especially when accompanied by the right music. So naturally I had to see what the James River Film Festival was showing for its night of shorts called "Magic and the Movies."

They started with film pioneer Gerorges Melies' "Extraordinary Illusions" (1903) (so un-PC with its Asian stereotypes) and "Untameable Whiskers" (1904) which was especially cool to see since Melies himself was in it. It was a textbook lesson in the use of stop-motion throughout.

Segundo de Chomon's "Diablo Rojo/The Red Spetre" (1903) was worth seeing because it was all hand-colored, mostly red and gold/yellow and again featured stop-motion.

Ferdinand Zecca's "The Invisible Thief" (1909) got the audience laughing a lot and I would guess that in 1909 the main character turning invisible on screen must have seemed amazing to audiences.

Leger's "Ballet Mecanique" (1924) was familiar to me because Jameson had shown it at his Silent Music Revival a while back. It suffered in this showing, however, because it had no musical accompaniment and it cries out for one with all its mechanical and repetitive images.

Len Lye's "Rainbow Dance" (1936) was so colorful and bright and had the most appropriate upbeat music, but what I liked best was the way he slipped in sponsor messages, from a local bank and the post office...art and commerce blending, so to speak.

Norman Mclaren's "A Phantasy" (1952) was supposedly important because of the techniques (painting directly on film, pixilation, a synthetic soundtrack) but it left me cold and kind of bored.

Lotte Reiniger's "Snow White and Rose Red" (1953) was sweet and the first film of the night with narration. Her paper silhouettes in stop-motion effect was charming to watch but must have taken forever to create. And while I had a faint memory of this fairy tale, it was enjoyable to see the story unfold.

Only a few of the shorts had musical accompaniment, like Red Spectre and Rainbow Dance, but I'm inclined to think some of the others would have benefited with music. Or maybe that's just Jameson's influence after enjoying so many of his film choices with local musicians improvising a score as they watch the films. But in any case, it was a fascinating evening of film history and I was glad I didn't miss it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Lesson in Humility

Ironically, given my last post, I spent 3 hours today at the local Veterans Hospital with a good friend. He was scheduled to have s scan done there and invited me to join him for the period after he drank the barium and before he had the CT scan done.

In that chunk of time, I saw more people missing limbs and disfigured than I have seen in my entire life. it was humbling and inspirational at the same time and an excellent reminder that while my life may not be going ideally at the moment, I still have a lot to be thankful for.

My friend was diagnosed with cancer last year and given how far gone it was, had his bladder, colon and part of his stomach removed. He now wears a bag 24/7 to collect what his body cannot. Today's scan was to determine if the cancer has returned.

As we sat there chatting and enjoying each other's company, it hit home how little any of us know about what lies ahead for us. We've been friends since 1993 and have enjoyed many, many stellar conversations about just about everything, so I feel for the sacrifices he has had to make. On the other hand, he is still here, still my friend and still a most enjoyable person to spend time with and for that, I am grateful.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Inside the Body, Heart and Soul of a Hero

Opening night at the James River Film Fest featured "Body of War," a documentary about 25-year old Tomas Young, who was paralyzed from the chest down when he was shot by a sniper on his 5th day serving in Iraq, The film, directed by Richmonder Ellen Spiro, is an unsparing look at how this young man dealt with his disability, lack of rehabilitation and emerging anti-war feelings.

There were moments in the film that were excruciating to watch (his mom inserting a catheter on a road trip to say goodbye to his younger brother before he, too, is deployed), an anti-war march with hundreds of Gold Star Families carrying pictures of their lost sons and daughters (many wanting just to touch Tomas because he made it back and their child didn't) and Tomas having to take breaks while speaking because the pain overcomes him.

This film got made because Phil Donahue met Tomas, felt that his story had to be told and provided the funding to allow Spiro to shoot for nearly three years. Much changes in Tomas' life over that period and the audience is privy to a great deal of it.

It's hard to imagine a more powerful testament to one man's courage as he makes the journey from soldier to anti-war activist than this documentary. Occasional tears aside, it's the kind of film every American needs to see to be reminded of the human cost of an arrogant President's decision.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Look Me in the Eyes and Tell Me You're Satisfied

I don't usually make a point to see the big, mainstream movies, but "Adventureland" sucked me in because I kept reading about what a great 80s soundtrack it had. So, as someone with many great music memories from then, I spent part of today's cool, damp afternoon watching a sweet movie about a recent college graduate's summer working at an amusement park circa 1987.

And I'd have to say the soundtrack delivered admirably, from Crowded House ("Don't Dream, It's Over") to The Cure ("Just Like Heaven") to probably my favorite Replacements song ever, "Unsatisfied." But for those who lived through the 80s but whose taste went in a different direction, there was Shannon's "Let the Music Play," Expose's "Point of No Return" and "In My House" by the Mary Jane Girls. And, because of the plot line, The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed are well represented too.

All in all, what could have been a cliched coming of age movie with a hackneyed soundtrack was elevated to something far better with a story that's believable and music that sums up an excellent representation of the music of a decade...Whitesnake notwithstanding.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nothing Like It in the World

It's a fairly well established fact that smell is a powerful memory-jogger and I've been reminded of that lately as spring has sprung and so much is starting to bloom. Growing up, we had a big lilac bush in our yard and that intoxicating lilac smell is what determined that they would become my favorite flower. I've never wavered in that conviction; just smelling them transports me back to that aching teenage feeling of waiting for love to happen and knowing that if something can smell as wonderful as lilacs do, anything is possible.

Lilacs are blooming in Richmond right now and I cut a huge bouquet yesterday, which I split between my living room and bedroom. The apartment is perfumed with them now and their scent keeps me in a constant state of awareness of that teenage feeling. I knew then that wonderful things were going to happen to me, romantic things that I couldn't even imagine then. And now, despite the recent upheaval in my love life, smelling this year's flowers is enough to convince me that my hopeless romanticism will again be rewarded. And until that happens, I have the lilacs to enjoy.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sometimes You Just Gotta Hit the Road

Now that Richmond has a mid-sized venue of its own, I have far fewer reasons to drive to Washington, Norfolk or Charlottesville for shows as I've done for years. But every now and then a tour completely skips us and then I have to seek it out. Like last night's trip to D.A.R. Constitution Hall to see Death Cab for Cutie and RaRa Riot (and Cold War Kids, but they held no interest for me).

And much as I hate I-95, the schlep was well worth the traffic because it was an excellent show. RaRa Riot came on at 6:57 and played a stellar 30 minute set. I absolutely love what having a cello and violin brings to the sound of this Syracuse band. I hope to see them headline soon so I can enjoy a longer set.

What can you say about Death Cab? They've been together for 12 years now and they do what they do extremely well. And that's play melodic, melancholy songs about feeling both smart and confused, hopelessly romantic but wary of love (as Rolling Stone put it). It's the hopelessly romantic and smart part of their lyric-writing that grabs me every time , so I found it in contrast to Ben Gibbard's energetic singing and guitar playing. Never having seen the band before, I expected his performance to be far more low-key than it was. But in reality, he was sort of like the geeky guy who secretly wants to be an arena rock star but with that plaintive, yet evocative, voice.

The entire show was over by 10:30 (D.A.R. is so civilized like that) so we hit the road with the strains of DCFC still in our ears. This was a show well worth dealing with the soul-sucking I-95 for. And I mean that in the most sincere and hopelessly romantic way.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I Know That I'm Your Favorite

Neko Case is one of those artists with appeal to a widely varying audience. Last night's show at the National proved that, with everything from friends who had never been to the venue before(how is that possible? I feel like it's my second home) to friends whom I'd seen there at the Mates of State/Black Kids show just last week.

Perhaps it's her amazing voice that draws from so many kinds of music lovers; certainly there's no denying that a large part of the male portion of the audience lust after her. She rewarded them with near-constant rearranging of her hair, putting it up and letting it down in turn. No question, she gives red hair a good name.

Crooked Fingers opened the show and delivered an excellent set, no doubt winning over those who profess not to like folk-tinged indie rock. Their performance demonstrated why Neko herself is a fan, having done a guest vocal on their latest CD.

While the show didn't sell out, it had to have come close, with everyone standing shoulder to shoulder. Luckily, Neko's fans are, for the most part, a civilized bunch, so the large crowd size was not a negative factor.

And perhaps most impressively, Neko forbade cameras of any kind, which meant no one was allowed to use their cell phones during her show. I'm sure plenty of people were going through withdrawal, but for some of us, it was a happy night. Security people warned the crowd ahead of time that phones would be confiscated if used. That's the world I want to live in all the time.

And kudos to Neko Case for making it happen, all the while serenading us with that magnificent voice. It was another good night at the National.