Thursday, August 20, 2009

W.P.A. at Joe's Pub

We have yet to discuss my favorite band. Seems a bit peculiar, as I have almost 150 posts about 'things I like.' You would think that Nickel Creek would be one of them.

I think Laura first told me about them. She must have burned me a Nickel Creek cd, like a good sister would. La, do you remember? Em? Somehow we got ahold of their first album and listened to it until we knew every string, every pluck. Its bluegrass reinvented, like nothing I had heard before. It was heartbreaking music. But it was also fun and fast and lovely and sounded like something from another time, another era. We like things like that.

I first saw Nickel Creek in concert in Minneapolis for my 22nd birthday. Laura drove 9 hours from Nebraska to surprise me and Emily (although Em was in on it, as I later realized.) I remember first hearing them live and feeling like my heart was physically expanding. That this music was somehow made for the three of us.

We then saw them live in Lincoln the next year at that old theater downtown. We ran into the band on the street afterword, and after thanking them for a beautiful show, Chris Thile looked me dead in the eye and said, "Third balcony? First row?" (Yes, Chris Thile! I WAS in the third balcony, first row! And you were clearly singing to me the entire time!) That was a nice moment.

I saw them again in Central Park two summers ago for their 'Goodbye for Now' tour with Fiona Apple, who is a crazy person. It was titled 'Goodbye for Now' as a way of announcing a Nickel Creek recess in which they would all explore solo careers. Since then, Chris debuted one of the most GORGEOUS albums I've ever heard. Its called How to Grow a Woman from the Ground Up and makes me ache for my early days in New York, as for a few weeks it was the only friend I had (go ahead, laugh at that statement. But you know how that is. Music as a prescription for loneliness.)

Sara Watkins introduced her own solo album this year, a softer compilation of old bluegrass tunes and a few gospel melodies. Sean has been around the world and back, lending his talent to different projects, new voices.

And now this. W.P.A. (named for the Works Progress Association, which was part of Roosevelt's New Deal. Love that.) is a new band composed of eight musicians with crazy talent. Sara and Sean Watkins are two of them (as is Glenn Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket) and this was only their fifth show ever performed. And the place was packed. A very interesting-- and dare I say rare-- experience to sell out a show on your fifth performance as a band. Also rare to be in the audience. It was a priviledge, a treat.

I can't say that the evening was perfect. If I were in California and this was November I would blame the Santa Annas. If I believed in astology I would blame the New Moon that hit last night's dark August sky. But this is New York and we don't believe in silly things like that. (Perhaps I can blame this long August heat though. Its getting to us all, isn't it?)

Joe's Pub is a fun place to see a show. Its a dinner theater setting, which I wasn't exactly expecting. It's part of the Public Theater, the same people who produce Shakespere in the Park and lots and lots of new talent. Its a tiny little space, which of course can create tension it itself.

We agreed, Al, Annie, and I, that Sara and Sean Watkins were the clear talent. They outshone Glenn and Luke and the four other members whose names I won't remember. They had the gut, they had the gusto. Sara belted 'Long Hot Summer Days', a song from her solo album, until the hair on the backs of our necks stood up. You couldn't be in the room and not get it, not understand how good that was. It is a rare thing, that talent. (Go download it. Download it right now.)

The evening made me miss my sisters, as I probably could have predicted. It made me wish they could have been there with me, in excitement and appreciation. But Laura is off delivering babies and Emily starting her first week of grad school and we will be together again soon I'm sure.

But the moment Nickel Creek gets back together for some sort of 'Hello Again' tour, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Butler girls will be there listening. Third balcony. First row.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cafe Vivaldi

Cafe Vivaldi is a small jazz bar tucked off Bleecker in the West Village. Alison and I came across it after getting pizza with Katy, Anna, and Val at the pizza place across the street from the best pizza place in New York (ha.) We were tired from a long day of painting in the August heat and were ready to go home to bed in Brooklyn. But for some reason we paused for a moment in front of this lovely brick lined cafe with an old wooden bar, candlelit tables, and a jazz quartet playing in the corner.

It all looked so Old New York that we cringed when we realized that the entire audience was what looked like a band member's enthusiastic girlfriend, the bartender, and the bus boys. No one else was there. We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and decided to be the audience they needed.

The jazz was outstanding. Just gorgeous. We sat in a corner table surrounded by old photographs of 19th century composers with strong beards and high collars. The room was very dark save for the candles on our tables and the soft spotlights on the base and grand piano. It was cozy and warm and perfect. In fact, we were so taken up by the romance of it all that we decided to abandon our usual order of wine for me, beer for her, in favor of an after dinner drink. The conversation is as follows:

Me: (to Alison) I think I'll have the port. Do I like port? Yeah, I'm pretty sure its sweet, I think I like port.

Alison: Oh, I'm getting grappa, I always get grappa when we get after dinner drinks.

Me: Sick. I used to have to drink that sometimes after dinner in Florence with my host family. It takes like windex.

Alison: No, its super sweet! Way sweeter and better than port.

Me: Really?! It must be different in Italy, where its like really strong whiskey.

(Our waitress enters.)

Alison: Is grappa sweet? Or is port the sweet one?

Waitress: Well, I don't like either, but yeah, they are both sweet. Grappa is sweeter.

Me: The port, please.

Alison: I'll have the grappa.

Minutes pass and Alison and I enthusiastically clap for the band as we are STILL the only patrons at Cafe Vivaldi. The band introduces themselves but its very clear that while the audience is composed of two tired and clueless twenty five year olds and a handful of bus boys, they are pretending to headline at the Blue Note. They bow to a pretend audience, hold for a pretend applause, and look no one in the eye. Alrighty then!

Our waitress comes back shortly thereafter with two tiny little flutes of our aperitifs. Lovely! I sip my port, its nice and sweet and syrupy. Alison looks at her crystal clear liquid, takes a big sip, and her head then proceeds to explode.

Alison: Oh my god! (cluthing heart) My heartburn! This is awful, I am going to die!

Me: (trying to muffle my laughter in fear of the poor band hearing. We can call this 'church giggles'.)

Alison: Try it!

Me: (like the idiot that I am) Okay!

I take a tiny little sip. The liquid hits my tongue, expands to every corner of my mouth and burns all the way up to my eye balls. It tastes, as I remembered, of windex, if windex were on fire. We had to ask our sweet little waitress for port instead, explaining that it ISN'T sweet, and they graciously gave her the exchange.

What did we learn from the experience? Other than the difference between port and grappa? That while we like to play the refined, knowledgeable New Yorkers, we aren't really that at all. We are still two Midwestern girls who are learning as we go along. Also-- that fun is always on the other side of a yes.

Monday, August 17, 2009

In Defense of Gwyneth

Gwyneth Paltrow rocks. And I mean it. She is a gorgeous actor, a loving mother, and a rare soft voice of domesticity and patience in a world of fast moving sex pot celebrities. She is more introspective than you and I will ever be and is consistently thoughtful in the literal sense. (I do have a point, bear with me.)

While I've always thought her lovely (since, what, Emma? Hook?) I embarrassingly feel I've gotten to know her through my very favorite television show, Spain: On the Road Again. I love that she starred in a PBS special about Spanish cooking and culture and I love that she did it on her own audacity, without motive or angle. She did it because she simply loves Spain and relished the opportunity to travel it with Mario and Mark (at least I like to believe so) and let us watch.

Through Spain we learned that Ms. Coldplay speaks fluent Spanish. She watches Dora the Explorer with Apple and Moses and didn't cut her hair for a long while because of her dead father. She was humanized for us in a way that we rarely see beneficial (think: any other celebrity reality show you've EVER seen.) She was kind and interested and sincere. And, as I've said time and time again, I think our world could use a little more sincerity.

Yes, I've fallen with the rest of the dreamy twenty or thirty something waspy New York minded girls, into Gwyneth-envy and into Gwyneth-mode. We LIKE Goop (see it there, on the side bar?). Its fascinating that this classically trained actress decided one day to Martha Stewartize herself with a blog about anything but her films and her career. It's really quite unique and fairly odd when you stop to think about it. Academy award winning actress turned blogger? Really?

But, being impressionable girls, we like her fashion hints and her book recs and her fancy fresh recipes. We like that she wears soft, lovely clothes and then tells us where she buys them. We wear leggings too! And belts with white dresses! And big chunky gold bracelets! And jumpsuits! (just kidding about the jumpsuits, we don't go that far. We also don't buy into the Kabbalah or the weird juice diets. There is a line, after all.) But we like her approach, we like her livelihood. We do.

However... we aren't really the popular vote on this. Gwyneth gets a lot of slack here in the big city. She has critics galore who think she is sappy and insecure and nonsensical. It is really cool to 'not like Gwyneth' and to laugh at Goop. She is an easy target because she does take herself slightly too seriously. Sincerity isn't funny because it doesn't laugh at itself. Whoops.

In fact, I have a few friends who watch Spain simply to laugh at GP. If I posted more posts about how lame Goop is, I might be more popular. You all might think I'm funnier and more clever than Goop ever could be. And I get that, we can trace it back to high school. But I'm not gonna call it lame. I'm not going to roll my eyes at her attempt. I think this world NEEDS Gwynnie and her thoughts of lavender. We need a svelte blonde actress to help us roast chickens and assemble salads. We are the better for it!

I like her. I admire her. I reach to emulate her.

THAT SAID... this is hilarious. Watch this and then this.

You can't take it all too seriously, now can you?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

SWINTON: A Pilgrimage

Glory be, I didn't realize how desperately in need of a SWINTON update we were until my new neighbor John sent me a link to this website. Thank you, SWINTON, once again, for never disappointing us with your bizarre and awesome projects.

In case you are too lazy to visit the website or read the surrounding press, I'll summarize. Dear Swinton has taken it upon herself to physically haul a 33.5-ton portable cinema along with about 40 other cinema enthusiasts (including Mark Cousins) through the Scottish Highlands for about a week, bringing independent film to a different village every night.

As stated on the site by Tilda herself,

Welcome to the state of cinema. We think you’ll like it here. You can be whoever you want to be in this special place. You can lose yourself in great glens, or lie on your belly on heather and peat and dip your lips into crystal clear mountain streams and drink ice-cold water. You might see a stag or eat fairy cakes.

We’re going to be doing something very romantic and passionate here. Because we love this place, its mackerel skies in November and its marmalade bracken, we are going to pull a 37 tonne cinema on wheels across it, from its crashing Atlantic waves to the dolphins of the Moray Firth. We’ll get hot and sweaty, or drenched with rain, and bitten by midges, and we might get blisters on our fingers and toes, but we’ll show flickering, splendid dream movies as we go, in a cockeyed caravan, like clowns or dafties, or kids. Please join our motley crew. Become a mendicant friar with us, in your mind — in Beijing or Vancouver, or Dakar or Tampere or Canterbury — by checking in to this wee site each day between 1st and 9th August 2009 to find out how our blisters are getting on, and by watching some of the movies we are showing.

Better still,
become a Fellow Traveller. Don a kilt and boots and bring a cheese sandwich and a tent, and walk this place of mountain streams and movie dreams in person.

Love from Mark Cousins and Tilda Swinton.
In honor of SWINTON and the fact that I will unfortunately be unable to attend this journey, I am going to try to use more words like 'wee' and 'cockeyed' and 'don' in my day to day conversations. It's really the least I can do.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Julie & Julia

Movie Monday (of last week) brought a screening of Julie & Julia, a film I've been swooning over for almost a year before seeing it. I mean, Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, and Amy Adams in a Nora Ephron film about Julia Child!? That has Lovely Day written all over it. Since finally seeing the film at a screening, Ms. Child has been looming in my head and in my conversations, all for the better. I loved this movie (thank goodness). You will too.

Alex and I agreed that the film could have held its own as simply Julia because the Julia Child portion of the film greatly outshone the Julie Powell portion. (Although there has already been a Julia, now hasn't there?) And I've said it before and I'll say it again-- Julie Powell is annoying. Amy Adams did her best to sweeten her up, but she was still annoying. Also, WHAT WAS WITH THE HAIR? Really bad. There are no excuses for that.

Meryl Streep, in contrast, nailed her character with that 'frank, jovial, and robust spirit.' I just loved her. There is something so rare about those characters who smile with every word they say, no matter the sentiment. Our reaction is much like that scene from Amelie when she turns to look at the movie theater audience during the best parts-- we smile too.

(Ironically, Amy Adams used this trait in the lovely Sunshine Cleaning, as did Maggie Gyllenhall in Trust the Man. Come to think of it, I wish that Amy had played Julie Powell more like her character in Sunshine Cleaning with that gorgeous can-do attitude. It would have translated nicely. Anyway...)

The Julia Child story delighted me in its accuracy. The love story between this 6'2" Amazon woman and this smallish mustached Renaissance man is unique in its respect and admiration. They enjoy life and food and wine together and verbally acknowledge how lucky they are to have found each other. The valentines scene is like no other in its very sincere and physically present love.

There is something to be said about sincerity. In a world of sarcasm and irony its nice to see two people get along and genuinely enjoy each other's company. This sentiment is extremely present in her book My Life in France and I was pleased to see the Tucci/Streep duo maintain such a felt connection.

Julia Child, June Carter, Willa Cather, Tilda Swinton, Katherine Hepburn-- these are women we should look to for examples of strength and grace. THIS, my friends, is where Julie Powell failed in terms of character.

Julia Child approached cooking with love and excitement. Julie Powell approached it with fear and dread. She negated Child's entire theory on French cooking and its importance. It isn't a race its an art; it's a lifestyle, not a deadline. (Oh, I could go on and on with my frustrations, I'll spare you.) At the end of the film we learn that Julia Child didn't like the Julie/Julia project, didn't have interest in meeting her or encouraging her quest. Can you blame her?

As I was making my toast and coffee this morning, and found my butter moldy and my coffee too weak, I knew that Julia Child would have laughed it off. Julie Powell would have probably cried on the kitchen floor. It's a difference in approach, a difference in clarity of choice.

Never ONCE in her memoir did Ms. Julia Child complain about her working conditions, her mood, her situation. There was no 'whoa is me', no deep emotional breakthrough. I appreciate this in a person and think we perhaps ought to go back there, to a time when emotional examination wasn't given quite the honor and patience that it is today. Laughter in place of empathy perhaps?

See this film. Then read My Life in France. Then go home and cook something with butter.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

3191 Miles Apart

I'm trying to write to you all a post about my Movie Monday experience with Julie & Julia (which was really very good) but I can't seem to escape the wonder that is the 3091 Project website right now.

If you ever find yourself doubting the value of blogging or websites or internety things, visit this site. Dig around until you understand the project and their connection and the goodness of it all.

Magic, I say. Pure magic.