Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reminiscing On Rock'n'Roll and Sex

I hated Queen in the '70s. I thought they were just a Led Zeppelin wannabe. The idea amuses me now, because the two bands could not be more different. Led Zeppelin is the ultimate heterosexual band. Queen is gay -- campy and gay. ("Fat Bottom Girls" is not how heterosexual men lust. Well, except maybe for Sir Mix-A-Lot.)

Led Zeppelin had no wit, godawful lyrics, and little care for formal tightness. They were the blues on steroids, and they managed to take everything too far. As Eric Clapton said, when he first saw them perform in 1969, "They overstated their point." Their live concert film, The Song Remains the Same, is tedious and unwatchable now, but at the time it was exactly what I wanted. Nobody else compared. I was, and still am, in awe of Jimmy Page's guitar prowess. He got sounds from his guitar that no one else gets to this day. He was also one of the few hard rock guitarists who could play intense jazz chords with distortion and make it sound good. (It's because he sold his soul to the Devil, dude! He lives in Aleister Crowley's house!)

Queen's homosexual sensibility completely eluded me in the '70s. But then, it was not until years later that I realized I was one of the few straight male high school thespians. All those other guys were flaming gays, and I never realized it.

Another thing I never realized was how sexual a lot of lyrics were. I'm stunned now that our parents let us listen to this music and play it in our garage band. For instance, take the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman."

I met a gin soaked, bar-room queen in Memphis,

She tried to take me upstairs for a ride.


I laid a divorcee in New York City

When I was a child it never occurred to me that Jagger was singing about sex.

Or take one of my favorite jamming songs, "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" by Ten Years After.

Good morning little schoolgirl,

Can I come home with you?


Baby, I want to ball you

I want to ball you all night long.

Not only is that blatantly about sex, but it's perverted and sinister. The singer is, I presume, a grown man trying to pick up a schoolgirl. We used to sing this song in our band in high school, and our parents never said a word about it.

Before I went into the Air Force, my mother took me aside and told me not to linger in bus station bathrooms because homosexuals hang out there. I did as she instructed, and went in and out of the bathrooms as quick as possible, without making eye contact for fear that one of these mysterious homosexuals might seduce me with his secret powers. She gets terribly embarrassed when I tell this story now, but I always do tell it at family gatherings because it's just too hilarious.

We're more open about homosexuality now. It's out of the closet. This is probably a good thing: people fear what they don't understand. On the other hand, I suspect that with the rise of religion, parents are not as uncaring about sexual lyrics as they were back then.

I don't know if America is more puritanical now or then.

UPDATE: Slight revision.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Kathleen Parker has stumped me with her latest column. What does this mean?

Tragicomedy, in which gods and men reverse roles, may be an honored dramatic genre, but is this any way to live?

I have no idea what she is saying. Here is the complete paragraph, in case the context helps makes sense of this sentence.

Obama's appearance on Jay Leno's show Thursday night -- joking lamely that his bowling is "like Special Olympics or something" -- is symptomatic of a broader blending of the serious and the comic that makes sane people feel slightly displaced. Infotainment isn't a new topic, but the lines are becoming increasingly blurred. Tragicomedy, in which gods and men reverse roles, may be an honored dramatic genre, but is this any way to live?

Tragicomedy, was first defined by the playwright John Fletcher, whose early plays with Beaumont, such as Philaster, were popular hits that brought tragicomedies in vogue on the London stage.

(Shakespeare's last plays, called romances, follow the tragicomedy fad. This is one of the better reasons that the Earl of Oxford could not have written the plays, as he was dead when all this happened. For us to believe Oxford wrote Shakespeare's plays, we would have to accept that he wrote tragicomedies years before anyone else did, and the King's Men did not happen to produce these plays until after 1608, when Beaumont and Fletcher happened to make the genre profitable.)

Where was I? Oh, yes. Tragicomedy. Fletcher's definition:

"A tragicomedy is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants [i.e., lacks] deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedy; yet brings some near it, which is enough to make it no comedy."

I don't what Parker means about men and gods reversing roles. If anyone can explain that, please do. For extra credit, explain what all this has to do with President Obama.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rehearsal Update

I'm doing the Ghost in Hamlet and First Gentleman/Elbow/Friar Peter in Measure For Measure in the 2009 Redlands Shakespeare Festival. Hamlet is a masterpiece of drama that combines a thriller plot with philosophy and poetry. Measure For Measure is a fascinating play of religion and politics that has never been an audience favorite. Me, I would much rather do it than A Midsummer-Night's Dream again.

Last night's rehearsal of Measure For Measure was good. We paraphrased what we were saying in one scene; after that our acting improved greatly. It's funny how something obvious and fundamental like understand what you're saying makes all the difference -- and yet, actors sometimes default on this basic responsibility.

I was in a show by Beaumont and Fletcher once, long ago. B&F were Shakespeare's contemporaries, and for about 100 years they reigned as the most popular playwright in the English Language. Shakespeare regained the throne in the early 18th century and holds it to this day. The B&F body of work, over 50 plays, should be attributed to Fletcher and Friends, as Beaumont was involved in less than 15 of the plays.

Anyway, after a performance of Knight of the Burning Pestle, someone asked the leading man what he was saying in a certain speech. He confessed, "I have no idea what I'm saying."

He was just standing onstage, saying the words. If you know no one in the audience will care and if you don't have much pride of craft, then it's easy to get lazy.