Words & Music Wednesday: Sacre Bleu

 
 

 
 

The best way I can describe Christopher Moore’s books is Supernatural comedy. I should also say that he is one of the very few writers who make me snort and laugh out loud. This is pretty useful if you happen to ride a lot of public transit. A few well placed guffaws, a snort or two and muttered repeating of the funniest lines pretty much guarantees one a private subway car.

 

 

The Twilight, Walking Dead, True Blood versions of the undead leave me cold, but there’s something about Moore’s slacker Vampires, Ikea bound zombies, and hapless heavenly beings that I find impossible to resist. I think it’s because while they may be immortal they are, in the end, pretty inept. The Stupidest Angel has become one of our holiday favorite reads right alongside How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cajun Night Before Christmas. A caution, his language is salty, his characters earthy, and he delights in knocking down sacred cows so if you are easily offended you might be better off with the Twilight series.

 

 

Moore’s latest book, Sacre Bleu Comedy d’Art, is about murder, artists, the color blue, an immortal shape shifter or two, and at the bottom of it all a woman (but of course). In the Paris district of Montmarte Toulouse Lautrec and baker/painter Lucien Lessard team up to solve the murder of their friend Vincent Van Gough, and goofiness ensues. All the major impressionists, pointillist Georges Seurat, and American painter James McNeil Whistler put in an appearances. There are glimpses of the great music hall performers of Belle Époque Paris Aristide Bruant, Jane Avril and Loie Fuller as well as the demimonde. This isn’t a “serious” book about art (there’s a reading list at the end of the book for that), but it’s a great romp through Fin de siècle Paris that brings the artists behind iconic paintings to vivid life.

 

 

I had a wonderful time coming up with a play list for this book; the only problem was that it was about twenty-five songs too long. With that in mind, I left off a few of the more obvious choices like the Can-Can, Don McLean’s Vincent and anything from my very favorite Sondheim score, Sunday in the Park with George (I’m saving that one for another post). What’s left is a mix of old, new and new to me tunes. If you have a favorite song about art and artists post it in the comments section. I’ll select one comment at random to receive your own personal copy of Sacre Bleu.

 

 

Montmartre – Original Cast Recording Can-Can – A little scene setter from Cole Porter.  

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Le Chat NoirAristide Bruant – Bruant is best known as the man in the red scarf from many of Lautrec’s most famous posters. Before opening his own cabaret Le Mirliton in 1885 he was the headliner in Paris’ first cabaret, Le Chat Noir. Le Chat hosted some of the most illustrious names of the day Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, Jane Avril and Yvette Guilbert to name but a few. Today Le Chat is (heavy sigh) a modern boutique hotel.
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Devil with the Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. Cherchez La Femme, and this one happens to be just the tiniest bit…well…blue. Not in the sad sense but in tint.
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When I Paint My MasterpieceEmmylou Harris. Emmylou covers Dylan.
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Sous Le Ciel de ParisEdith Piaf – Because you can’t ever have a playlist for a story set in Paris without an Edith Piaf number, no matter what era.
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Turbulent Indigo Joni Mitchell – Great art often comes from great turmoil and there’s always a price.
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 Paul CezanneFive Chinese Brothers – Why? 1.) Their French accent is tres worse than mine (one of the rare times I still have a southern accent is when I speak French.). 2.) They rhyme oeuvre with Louvre & 3.) this song makes me giggle. 
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The Art TeacherRufus Wainwright – Another tune about the costs we pay for the choices we make.

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 Paul Gauguin in the South SeasJimmy Webb – I saw Jimmy Webb in concert a few months ago. He played many of my favorite songs, but not this one. I wish he had.

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Hymne á L’amourEdith Piaf – Because two Piafs are better than one, and I couldn’t chose between two songs that I love so much.

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Genre Bending – Me First & the Gimmie Gimmies

   

 
 

My friends, I am on a quest! A quest to rid the world of a vile and pernicious evil. I am speaking, of course, of genre snobbery and it must be stamped out.  The habit of boxing ourselves like veal into a few limited categories of music that we will listen to and allowing no more is unhealthy and makes us less rather than more interesting.

 

 

How many times have you heard (or said) “I don’t like jazz”, “I just can’t stand country music” or “classical music is sooo boring”? Really? On Amazon there are 223,506 recordings listed under jazz, 156,512 under country, and 377,923 in classical. Let’s just suppose that each of these is an album with eight songs on it that would be 1,788,048 jazz, 1,252,096 country, and 3,023,384 classical tracks. Can you honestly tell me that in all that vast number of songs there is absolutely nothing you would deign to listen to?

 

 

My favorite artists are the ones who recognize that a good song is one that can be translated into a variety of styles, and don’t hesitate to take a great piece of music and make it their own regardless of its genre label. I will be regularly featuring some of these musicians in this space.

 

 

Spawn introduced me to Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies. The advantage to living with someone with completely different musical sensibilities is I’m constantly being introduced to songs and groups I wouldn’t seek out on my own.

 

 

Me first is a punk supergroup made up of Spike Slawson of Re-Volts and Swinging Utters, “Fat” Mike Burkett of NOFX, Chris Shiflett of Foo Fighters, Joey Cape of Lagwagon, and Dave Raun of Lagwagon. They’ve released nine albums each covering a different genre and era of music. They’ve even got an EP covering Japanese pop hits, in Japanese.

 

 

Deciding which songs to put in my playlist was tough. Their version of Air Supply’s All Out of Love manages to make me forget years of junior high dance trauma, and I Write the songs would make even a hardened Barry Manilow critic smile. I had to turn to the expert and after much debate spawn and I came up with a playlist that made us both happy.

 

 

Uptown Girl: This is Spawn’s Personal favorite of all their covers. I asked him why and he said “It’s genre bent but stays true to the original sentiment.”  

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 Summertime: Yes, they did an album of Broadway Showtune covers. This was one of the more hotly debated selections. Spawn liked their cover of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” better, but I really liked the surf punk guitar sound on this one. I won this round, motherhood has its privileges.
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Jolene: The only unanimous selection. Dolly Parton has been known to do quite a bit of genre bending herself, so it’s nice to hear a group returning the favor. This may be my all time favorite Dolly song.

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In These Shoes: Footwear as Autobiography

   

 Suede Prada Sandals Purchased New Year’s 2012

Photo by Cindy Banescu

 

 

 

I got my first pair of heels for my sixth grade graduation after months of badgering my mother. On the day of the big shopping trip she turned me loose in the shoe section of her favorite department store gently nudging me in the direction of a display of lady like kitten heels. Imagine her shock when I presented her with a pair of three and a half inch stiletto heeled sandals and announced “I want these”. My mother was never one of those mothers who spoke in absolutes. She figured out pretty early in parenthood that subtlety and a smidge of reverse psychology were her friends. She smiled very sweetly and said, “Ok, you can have them, if you can walk in them.” She was pretty confident that this would be the end of things as I would never make it out of the chair let alone halfway across the shoe department. In this instance, though, she underestimated my determination to have those shoes. The walk was far from graceful, but I made it from point a to b. The shoes were mine and an obsession was born.

 

 

I love the transformative power of a pair of high heels. Three inches is good, four are better and six the best. My shoes have the power to give me the confidence to face difficult and scary situations. They make my legs look long, and change the way I walk. They’re also great icebreakers. I am pretty much an introvert, starting conversations with strangers is one of the most difficult things for me to attempt. You wouldn’t believe the conversations that have been started simply because someone was curious about my shoes.

 

 

I realized I often remember the events of my life by what shoes I was wearing. They all tell a story. They aren’t the whole of my inner self, but my shoes definitely reflect different aspects of my personality. Having amassed a pretty fair collection over the past decade or so I thought I’d take them out of the closet a pair at a time and see what they have to say.

 

 

Working with Michele B. in her LA Studio

Photo by Cindy Banescu

 

 

 

These Prada sandals are a fairly new addition to the fold. In our house we have begun the Christmas tradition of doing a large family gift for the three of us rather than a lot of little things no one really needs. This has two great advantages. One: I get a lovely and rare evening out with Spouse and Spawn (this year we saw Allen Rickman, Lily Rabe, and Hamish Linklatter in Theresa Rebeck’s play Seminar. We were appropriately awed) and two: it frees me up to scoop up a great post holiday bargain for myself. Can you really go wrong with any celebration that includes great theatre AND deeply discounted Prada?

 

 

Choosing shoes is very personal art form for me. Though I’ve been given shoes that I love on several occaisions as gifts they’re never quite as special as the pairs I choose for myself. I want to fall in love. I’m looking for that elusive chemistry that might come from the shape of the  heel, the feel of the fabric or the way the strap falls across the vamp. In this case it was the color. Turquiose suede, lush, sexy, happy, we were destined for good times. We’ve been very content thus far going to the theatre, working in LA, out for a night on the town and even the occaisional gig. Strangers stop us to remark upon  how suited we are to each other. These shoes are a straight shot of visual Prozac. It is almost impossible to be unhappy when they are on  my feet. I wish that everything in life were that easy.

 

 

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Food,Glorious Food

 

 

Photo by William Bliss

 

 

I am a domestic menace. A trail of shoes, coats and tote bags full of papers mark my progress through the house. The dust bunnies under my bed are forming a union, and I fully expect to be found in my office one day buried under a pile of books, clothes and sheet music.  As long as I can locate spouse, spawn and felines amongst the detritus of my life I’m content. I’ve never considered myself to be terribly domesticated, except when it comes to food.

 

 

I learned to cook when I was ten after attempting to make breakfast in bed for my parents and nearly burning the house down. My mother, bless her Mississippi born heart, didn’t get mad. She put me in the car, drove to the nearest bookstore and let me pick out an age appropriate cookbook. From then on I was allowed to cook a few things a week under her expert supervision. In a short time I had worked my way up to making important Southern staples like corn bread, fried chicken and chicken fried steak. Although, to this day I have yet to master red eye gravy.

 

 

I loved cooking and yet when spouse and I were first married and spawn was little I put it aside for a while. The craziness of work, raising a precocious toddler, and just life in general left me with very little time and energy at the end of the day to indulge in much beyond basic sustenance cuisine. There was, if I’m completely, honest, quite a bit of takeout. I knew we’d probably gone overboard with the readymade food when one evening around dinner time the doorbell rang and Spawn went racing toward it yelling “dinner”! I am sorry to tell you that until the time he was five he believed that homemade cookies came from plastic tubes in grocery store refrigerator section.

 

 

As we’ve all grown up a bit and our lives have changed I have more time to spend on cooking and food. I don’t cook every day, because too much domesticity frightens spouse and spawn, but I do it as often as schedules permit. I even make the occasional homemade (not from the tube) cookie.

 

 

This brings me to my current problem. Facing the mirror after a summer filled with travel, feasting, and a schedule that keep my daily three mile constitutionals at a bare minimum I realize I’m carrying just a bit too much avoirdupois (that’s a nice Frenchy way of saying flab). I’m by no means obese and there have been times in my life when I’ve carried quite a bit more weight than this. Still, it’s best to nip these things in the bud before it gets out of hand. The thought of having to wear double Spanx and saran wrap to fit into my pencil skirts holds no appeal.

 

 

I have managed to learn a few things about reducing myself even though I love good food. The most important thing I have gleaned is that there is no substitute for good food. Reduced fat cheeses taste like melted plastic and all those 100 calorie snack packs just depress me. I have found that if keep good chocolate and cheese in the house I actually eat less. The ingredients are richer and I feel satisfied with less. It could also be that once you pay ten bucks for a really good bar of chocolate you want to make it last as long as humanly possible. It seems the poorer the ingredients the more I want to gorge myself. I think the Reeses people put crack in the peanut butter cups so that you’ll keep eating them till you pop.

 

 

Telling myself that I can’t have certain foods only guarantees that I will eat more of whatever it is I put on my list. If I am mindful of what I eat I can have whatever I want and that’s far better than dreaming of things I must give up even for a brief time. So, let us all eat chocolate and cheese! In moderation, of course!

 

 

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Words & Music Wednesday

 
 

 

 

For as long as I can remember words and music have been a constant in my life. There are few pleasures greater than losing myself in a story or a wonderful piece of music.

 

 

Books were a refuge for me and a window on worlds beyond my own. From the moment I learned to read I devoured books. They sparked my desire to learn. My best education occurred not in the classroom but in the pages of a book.

 

 

Music came along slightly before the books. I have a vivid memory of making up story songs from my picture books before I could read them. Perhaps there’s an opera librettist in me struggling to get out. Music provided a source of self expression that I could not find anywhere else. If I’m being perfectly honest it also gave me a way to show off. I subjected my sister and cousins to more than one living room concert where I was accompanied by Donny and Marie on my trusty eight track with built in microphone.

 

 

Combining these two great loves of mine is one of the missions of this blog. With Words & Music Wednesday I hope to bring together a great tome with some great tunes inspired by it.

 

 

 

 

I spent the better part of last weekend curled up with Stephen Fry, rather Stephen Fry’s new memoir The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography. The Chronicles pick up where his previous memoir Moab is my Washpot left off with his entrance into Cambridge and the subsequent launch of his career as a performer, writer, and linguistic savant. He manages to be ruthlessly honest, poignant and laugh out loud funny, sometimes all at the same time.

 

 

Fry claims not to be at all musical. Can’t sing, can’t dance, can’t play an instrument, yet his use of language is nothing if not musical. Odd that while claiming no musical talent for himself his knowledge of the subject goes deeper than that of many professional musicians I’ve known. Of course, my favorite thing about him is that he is no genre snob. While he can expound upon classical musical with authority he can also talk about everything from British Music Hall songs to alternative acts. A mention from him on Twitter has helped many an up and coming group. I might add that he revised the book for the show Me and My Girl which was a monster hit both in the UK and here. These are not the acts of a non-musician.

I am a sucker for a man with a big vocabulary and great taste in music!

 

 

Maria CallasVissi D’Arte  from Tosca: Fry gave a brilliant speech on the relevance of classical music to the Cambridge Univeristy Debate Society. Listen to that and it may change the way you think about not just classical music but all music.  

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Robert Lindsay, Maryann Plunkett and Company – Lambeth Walk from Me & My Girl.

 

 

 

 

 

Tony Bennett and Bill Evans – Young & Foolish: There are several playlists put together by Mr. Fry as part of programs or interviews. This track appears on a number of them.   

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Hugh Laurie, Tom Jones, & Irma Thomas – Baby Please Make a Change. Fry Met Hugh Laurie at Cambridge and they’ve been friends and collaborators ever since.

 

 

 

 

 

Patch WilliamJealousy: One of the bands Fry has championed on twitter.  

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Toy Horses - Interrupt: Another group whose fortunes have been altered by a mentionon Twitter.

 

 

 

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Women at Work: A Photo Essay

 

 

At any given moment I have at least two cameras with me, the one in my cell phone, and a small digital one that I always carry in my purse. More often than not, the loose change and random lint that accumulates in my bag are the only things those lenses ever get to see. I can’t tell you why I’m so awful at snapping things. Maybe I’m afraid they won’t be good enough, maybe I’m lazy, or maybe I just get so involved in what I’m doing I forget to document it. Fortunately, on my last trip to LA my friend, Cindy Banescu, offered to come out and document one of my rehearsals with Michele Brourman as we put together a new set. Cindy and I first met when we were teenagers, and many of the photos I have from that time in my life come from her camera. It’s been more than a few years since our last photo session, and yet it felt like no time had passed at all. I am thrilled to have some shots of Michele and I at work, we have a great time together, and Cindy Captured that.

 

 

 

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Welcome Home

 

 

Painting by Jakob Alt

 
 

White. A blank page or canvas…So Many possibilities

Stephen Sondheim,

Sunday in the Park with George

 
 

New Year’s Day, the first day of school, opening the first page of a new journal are things that have always excited me. They bring with them the sense that though you never know what is going to happen, you’re sure it’s going to be thrilling, maybe even life altering. Welcome to my latest blank page.

 

Being a singer and musician is a defining characteristic for me, but it’s not the only one. I love books, and words, and food and fashion. I’m a wife, a mother, and an animal lover. I’m old fashioned about manners, but I’ve never felt that I was born in the wrong place or time. I relish living in an era where I can define who and what I am. I see no contradiction between being a girly girl who enjoys wearing high heels and makeup and being a serious person. Life without laughter is meaningless, and if you can’t be silly once in a while what’s the point?

 

This blog is about more than where I’m performing, and what I’m selling (although there will be plenty of that!), I want it to reflect all the things I’m interested in and to be a place to connect with a great variety of people. One of the things I’m most looking forward to is hearing from you. I want to know what you think, and what interests you. We don’t always have to agree on things, but when we don’t let’s do it with respect and civility. There’s enough ugly in the world, I’d rather not add to it!

 

With that in mind, I want your comments starting right now! As an incentive to overcoming any lingering cyber shyness you may have I am hosting a little giveaway. Fall is probably my favorite time of year and autumn in New York is the season at its most romantic. I’m giving away to one lucky commenter some essentials for a romantic whether you happen to be in Central Park or The Central US. There’ll be music, a copy of my CD (or download card) Breathing; Poetry, a beautiful hardbound edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and chocolate, a $25 gift card to one of my favorite epicurean haunts The Meadow, which sells an amazing variety of high end chocolate, or if savory is more your speed, gourmet salts (I’m addicted to their black truffle  salt). All beautifully packaged and delivered right to your door. To enter all you have to do is pop into the comment section and tell me what’s on your mind. Tell me about yourself, what you think of the new site, what features you might like to see on the blog, or just say hi. Once you’ve made your comment and it has been posted I’ll put your name in my gorgeous sequined vintage hat and draw a winner out of it at random. I’ll be posting a winner on Monday October 1st so you have until then to make yourself heard! I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

 

 

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