Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cage Match

Some of us live in urban bohemia and some of us grew up in suburban bohemia.

The latter would be Slash Coleman, who came to the Library of Virginia tonight for a reading (actually a retelling) from his new book, "The Bohemian Love Diaries."

Three years ago, I spent Valentine's night with Slash and a bunch of other singles at Crossroads Art, listening to him and a few guests share stories about how the course of true love never does run smooth, a fact of which I was well aware at that time.

Tonight's reading drew a lively crowd, several of whom told me they were intrigued by the book's title.

After chatting with a woman about industrial farming and (no kidding) circumcision during the wine and cheese reception, Slash took center stage in a full beard and ripped jeans to bring us up to date on his life.

And while usually his stories have a humorous side, this one involved him getting a collapsed lung that eventually required surgery to re-inflate and causing him to cancel the rest of his book tour speaking engagements,

Well, except for this one because, here's the thing: Slash grew up in Chester, a word he humorously pronounced all evening long the way the locals do.

Showing us the book cover, we saw a picture of Slash when he was about eight, back when his artist father used to load up the family for monthly trips to Alaska to find an artists' colony.

Except they rarely got any farther than Fredericksburg.

Tonight's talk was about being raised by an eccentric family and his failed love relationships as a result of coming out of all that eccentricity.

He showed us an Italian version of the book with the title changed to "Love with a High Fever," a title he didn't think was any better than his.

I don't know about that.

Sharing the story of his parents' meeting at the tea room at Miller & Rhoads, we heard that Dad, a sculptor, had been a sign painter for M & R and Mom was French and a student at RPI. Along the way, he threw in that Grandpa danced at the Moulin Rouge and Grandma was a watercolor painter.

On his parents' first date, he showed up in a stolen car with a case of Manischewitz wine and a plan to win her heart. Instead he drank it all and passed out and she walked home alone to her dorm.

Disastrous as it sounds, he invited her to Passover for their second date, but they ended up eloping before the second date.

Slash recalled an early interest in sports that was of no consequence to his artistic parents. The closest to sporty they got was when his Dad organized a softball game between the Freaks, a bunch of sculptors, and the Pigs, a team of Richmond police officers.

Begging his mother to let him play baseball, she responded that he would be paralyzed and said no, but he eventually found an old glove in his Dad's studio and signed up for the team himself.

Sharing tales of gymnastics, wrestling and being brought home to his mother after sports injuries, he waxed poetic about Coach Walt, a man who wore Brut by Faberge and had a white person Afro.

It's a pretty vivid visual.

He recalled fondly the period when his father sold roadkill sculptures to support the family. It gets pretty odd here because while the head was from one animal and the legs from another, the body was always made of bread.

Yup, you read right.

So one of his pieces might have the head of a turtle, the legs of a lizard and a pumpernickel body. And when pieces didn't sell after a while, they  were retired to the backyard as ornamentation, at least until the bread rotted or was eaten.

I'd say that's pretty bohemian.

In any case, the book is being shopped around as a TV series and who knows, a series could show up on TV about a boy from Chester who came from a family of six Leo women and eight artists.

During the Q & A, Slash said he prefers to read non-fiction because, "I'm interested in how people put their truths together."

Exactly the way I feel about non-fiction and no doubt part of the reason that people read my blog every day.

Or maybe they're eager to read about my love with a high fever exploits, who knows?

Truth telling aside, next on my plate was the annual musicircus at UR, the one hour beautiful cacophony of musicians playing whatever they choose.

Don't ask me, composer John Cage thought it up and I just participate every year.

The musicircus got a late start because the eighth blackbird show ran over, so it was almost 9 when the sirens went off and everyone began playing.

Wandering down hallways, up and down staircases, into practice and classrooms, the milling crowd had myriad options for what kind of music with which to begin.

Since so many people were gathered on the first floor, my fellow Cage lover and I sprinted upstairs in an attempt to beat the masses.

Brian Jones, an organizer of the annual event, had assembled a percussion ensemble that included jazz drummer extraordinaire Scott Clark on tambourine.

Perched on an upholstered chair with two girls on couches for an audience was harmonica player Andrew Ali, whom I've seen play with Allison Self and lately, Josh Small. Tonight he was flying solo, singing and blowing his best blues.

Improv troupe the Johnsons (from Richmond Comedy Coalition) had wedged themselves into a hallway and were hilariously making up stuff with every word that came out of their mouths.

For sheer effect, it was tough to beat Kill Vonnegut, a punk quintet playing under black lights to a rapt audience.

For something completely different, the Family Band looked impossibly young and clean cut, with not a whisker of facial hair in the bunch, belting out Fountains of Wayne's "Stacey's Mom." I think they were all about 8 when it came out.

Tucked into a small room was Monk's Playground, where I recognized Larri Branch on piano, Brian Cruse on upright bass and the female sax player from RVA Big Band. As to which Monk song they were playing, I couldn't tell you.

I spotted David Roberts, whom I recognized from Classical Incarnations, playing piano alone in a room but couldn't hear him over the din, so I stepped in.

Turning, he invited me to look at his score, where I saw the title "Vexations" and the composer, Eric Satie, and an instruction at the top to play the theme 840 times.

David said that Cage had once done it and it had taken him 18 hours. Since the musicircus only lasts one hour, that wasn't happening tonight, but I was curious if repeating the same page of music was vexing him yet.

"A little, yes," he admitted with a smile, but I gave him the award for most Cage-appropriate music choice.

Coming down a stairwell, we happened on a sitar and a moment later the young woman who played it arrived, sitting on the floor to play. It was easily the handsomest instrument of the evening.

And purchased online, of course.

Tucked into a classroom with staffs drawn on the white board were guitarists Scott Burton and Matt White with another musician between them turning knobs and adjusting the effects of their playing to an ambient guitar wall of sound.

Alistair Calhoun took home the prize for smallest guitar, using reverb effects and finger picking to entice me to linger and listen.

DJ Carlito spun world music heavy on the middle east and even getting people to start dancing in the hallway. Pianist David Eslek was playing Lennon's "Imagine."

Downstairs we found the Josh Bearman group, a lot of whom seemed to be the Hot Seats, playing their spot-on old time and bluegrass music.

The gamelan orchestra had a Balinese shadow puppet play on film playing over their instruments, an ideal accompaniment to the lyrical music.

Near the door, Dave Watkins grabbed people's attention coming and going with his electric dulcitar and endless looping to create the sound of a quartet or even quintet.

Because he's Dave, he kept playing long after other musicians had stopped (or even left), treating the lingerers to a sonic finale that blew minds. But then, he's Dave Watkins, so he always delivers the grandiose.

Every year I say it because every year it's true.

Richmond is incredibly fortunate that we have a musicircus put on every year, with dozens of musicians both new to their craft and long-standing, playing their hearts out for free for one hour.

I saw so many people I know taking it all in. There were musicians playing and musicians as guests. Students experiencing it for the first time. Even a few little children in headphones.

Heads full and ears happy, the musicircus beats even Barnum & Bailey for sheer delight in the experience. Plus, no animals are harmed in the making of the musicircus.

That's how I'm putting today's truth together, ladies and germs. Make of it what you will.

Should you have any questions, you can find me in New Bohemia...or thereabouts. Possibly with a high fever.

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