“Bad” kills “Good”

Maybe this is an offensive post to some of you… Others won’t read it because of who wrote it… Some will miss it or ignore it… Some may forward or like… Some will have your own distinctly intelligent point of view, whether or not agreeing or disagreeing silently or in the comments below… And very possibly someone will quote the bible pointing and screaming, You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye!”

But, after well-over twenty years of working as a professional in the performing arts I’ve come to most certainly realize…

“Bad” kills “good.”

Last night, at a piano bar somewhat new to me, I had complete strangers flood words upon me and one of my singer friends, telling us how much they love live music, but how hard it is to find places to hear it… Imagine that. People who live within the lines of the second largest American city, complaining to two singers that there’s not enough live music venues. A city that both my friend and I have personally witnessed one music venue after another die slow painful starving death after slow painful starving death.

The unsolicited comments from people unknown seemed to shock us both…

How often have you heard that your city doesn’t have any theater or music or art or comedy, but yet, if you talk to anyone that’s involved with whatever they’re complaining about, the artist (comic, singer, writer, painter, actor…) will be super quick to point out all the venues struggling to stay open and all the positive reviews they’ve ever gotten…

Last night, my first impulse was to tell my new-found friends about all the music venues I know of that are barely existing, because they’re not attracting enough audiences… In a county of over 10 million people… Struggling to get 30, 40, 50, or 70 patrons a night… But I didn’t, I rather chose to remain mostly silent and listen.

This morning, I came up with an answer I didn’t know I was looking for, to a question I didn’t know I was asking… How could these various individuals, from different tables, on the same night, in the same place, all have very similar ideas of a completely different perception than my own…

BTW my mind often works on unknown “problems” or questions overnight…

Unrelated story: Recently in Mexico I went into a grocery store to buy dog food for some strays I discovered, and asked a clerk, “Por favor, no compredo Espanol, sorry, where is your dog food?”

When it was clear he didn’t understand the words in my question… I started barking and indicating eating with my fingers… He guided me to the ketchup aisle.  I had no idea why… But I thanked him and eventually found the pet food aisle I was seeking, the whole time wondering how he got ketchup from “dog food,” “bark bark.”

— But the next morning I woke up with the answer… “Oh! HOT DOG! He probably thought I meant, hot dogs!”

Instagram Post with story
Instagram Post with story

It’s not that there isn’t amazing art in galleries, or brilliant performances in theaters, or mind-blowing music in cabarets, insanely off the grid thinking comic improvised performances just a few miles away… It’s that there is a ton of art we can’t appreciate, plays & films we don’t understand or get, performances that hurt our ears, wallets, or sensibilities… Stuff we are quick to label and tag as “bad.”

Now, before you jump down my throat, screaming, “who are you, or who is anyone to say or deem whose voice is good, or which script or which play is good…” I am nobody but myself…  I’m well aware that Tom Petty, Tom Jones, Tom Waits, Tommy Tutone, Tommy Tune, and Thomas Dolby all have played on many a stages, and been appreciated by worldly audiences, and I’m certain each of you know at least two of those names, and have opinions about them. We aren’t supposed to get every artistic thing we see, we’re all not going to be fans of every performer, of every movie, script, story, or song… For years I didn’t get the attraction of many singers that the masses were gushing over, and I often watch films that critics love or that are up for awards, and that leave me scratching my head trying to figure out what the praise is all about…

Be completely honest, if you were to have seen Andy Kaufman, or Steve Martin, or Gilbert Godfried, or Rosanne Barr, or Danny Devito, or Nirvana, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, or a painting by Vincent Van Gogh before they hit the mainstream consciousness, do you really think you would have bet even ten bucks on all of their successes?

“Despite being one of the world’s best known and most highly acclaimed painters, poor van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime.” – Huff Post

Unfortunately, it’s not show-art, it’s show business, and most venues and companies are in business to turn a profit. The masses have become more and more nervous to take risks watching new & original, and that’s probably one reason why so many Broadway shows are recycled movies, why so many movies are recycled TV shows, books, or sequels, and just yesterday I heard they’re now recycling old TV to “new” TV… (The Odd Couple, which started as a play, then a movie, then TV show, now another TV show…) Why so many shows have casts that look like cookie cutter casts of other shows… Business, like people, rarely likes to take chances.

And people, myself included, are more willing to pay a hundred bucks to see a known entity like Billy Joel in concert, watching from half a mile away, than pay $10 to see some possible hack piano-man named Bolly Jiel from five feet away. (If your name is Bolly Jiel, and you play piano, I apologize, at the time of writing this, you did not come up on an Internet search).

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I also realize that if someone sees Transformers I and hates it, they’re probably not going to spend any money on watching Transformers II, III, IV, V… And that’s perhaps what we conclude about entire venues, genres and cities… Perhaps we the audiences are far too sensitive… Making quick hard rules, lumping all cabaret spaces, all theaters, all independent movies, all film festivals, all improv comedy shows into general statements…

“I went to an open mic once, one of the singers was so awful. I’ll never go to another as long as I live. I’d rather see someone like Billy Joel in a piano bar.”

“I went into a music club in Atlanta, and the chick and dude playing were so bad… Atlanta has no nightlife… No music scene… It’s dead there…”

“I’ve seen way too many bad theater plays, with needy bad actors, I’d rather go to the movies. Let’s see… ‘Transformers VII’ is playing…”

“I saw an Off Broadway musical once, I’d rather spend my money on something I know is going to be good… Like ‘Cats.’ Or ‘Ghost.’ BTW, how come they haven’t made ‘Walking Dead the musical yet?’ Oh look the Internet says they have.”

“I saw this standup at this dive once it was so vulgar, I’ll never go back… You like Louie C.K.? Now he’s funny. Or Jim Jefferies. Is Don Rickles still around?”

“I went to an art opening, everything and everyone was so precious and pretentious, I hated it… It was like the opera, but without that stupid music… Not that I’d be caught dead at some opera…  I’d rather watch golf on TV.”

“No I don’t want to go… The last time I was at a film festival some guy who directed the movie wouldn’t shut up at this stupid Q & A afterwards… Shhh, they’re analyzing the baseball game, I just spent four hours watching…”

“Last time I went to an art museum, I had more fun getting ice cream afterwards… Let’s just get ice cream and then just complain that there’s nothing to do in this town.”

“‘Spoken word’ is just people who can’t sing, with nothing to say, in front of people who click their fingers together because they don’t know what else to do… I’d rather see what’s on TV… Hey, you wanna watch ‘Duck Dynasty’ or ‘Real Housewives?'”

It’s easy to put the blame on producers, writers, actors, painters, singers, dancers, choreographers…. Because yeah, there is a lot of things we all will think is complete crap not worthy of being seen in a subway or written on toilet paper out there. But one thing is for certain, even more than audiences probably being far too sensitive… And that’s that I can guarantee that artists, writers, singers, dancers and performers can not, are not able, will not, and should not, police themselves…

Far far too often I have met many a truly, super-talented, gifted artist/actor/singer/comic who didn’t think they were good enough, and they quit, or held themselves back from opportunities, yet at the same time, I’ve met a plethora of people over the past two decades that make me want to go running for the exit every time they get on stage, pick up a guitar, or stand behind a microphone, and yet they believe in their hearts and minds they’re the next incredibly talented national sensation… And the brilliant thing about art, music and showbiz is, no one in the world can tell you which of these people are right.

What would you have given to have seen a young Frank Sinatra or Elvis perform before they found their style and national attention, or to have heard the Beatles or Rolling Stones before they crossed the pond…? I just saw the movie, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” a script I highly doubt any unknown writers could have gotten made… But imagine being one of the people to publicly hear Bob Dylan in a small venue in the 60s (in all honesty, I’m pretty sure I would have thought “Oh God, he’s horrible”)… Billy Joel in a piano bar in the 70s, Alanis Morissette before she release Jagged Little Pill in the 90s…

Recently an 84 year old guy, Ray Jessel, who I performed with in a cabaret show with in 2012 went on America’s Got Talent, and dozens of pirated YouTube videos of his TV appearance blew up the Internet the next day… The same song (done even better when I saw it LIVE), and four other fun tunes, that I saw him do two years earlier to an audience of less than 20 people.

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So, within all these words is there a point…?

I don’t know.

I suppose “Bad” does kill “good.”

And… Whether you are aware of it or not, sadly it’s also true that there are a lot of severely untalented people, being deemed talented, by the public at large, acts that can’t find or hold pitches that are auto-tuned even in their live shows, and actors who wouldn’t be able to hold your attention if they were your waiter standing naked in front of you, yet they’re constantly being edited, portrayed as godlike, powerful, charming, action heroes… which we as a society are being idiotically, unquestionably, spoon fed.

We do however all have the power to not let that all of this happen…

We can see LIVE performances…

In small venues were there’s no such thing as auto-tune or technicians…

In theater where there is no second take…

In small budget movies where you get three takes and then move on, not sixty takes of the same sentence, over and over from three cameras from twenty angles…

We have the power to have short memories… To forgive poor performances… To overlook acts we didn’t enjoy for the amazing jewels we did… To realize we may not be “unquestionably right,” and that others may have different appreciations… As I’m writing this, I’ve come to realize how forgiving I am with meh things passed on the Internet, many which later prove to be bullshit performances anyway… And how maybe I should adopt that same attitude towards other things. Forgetting the time and the money I spent.

If you had to sit through 100 meh/mediocre performances to see just 1 performance by a young unknown Jim Morrison, Elton John, Dean Martin, Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Prince before he called himself Prince, Pink before she deemed herself Pink, Cher before she was known as just Cher, Madonna before she became Madonna… (Whomever is your favorite of all time…) Would you have done it? To have seen Brando or Dustin Hoffman in some tiny theatre? Lucile Ball, Robin Williams, John Belushi…?

IF YOU

So, to the people who complained to me about not enough live music, and piano bars…

I completely agree. And I’ve gone off on many tangents while doing so…

There are still plenty of venues… Plenty of artists struggling to be seen, heard, watched, bought, read… Plenty of new ideas trying to get made… Plenty of “new” talented actors, writers, singers… The only way you’ll ever get to see the next break out stars before they play huge venues or packaged to the masses is to catch them before everyone else jumps on board. The only way production companies will start investing in new ideas, new scripts, from new writers, is if people in masses go and support new ideas, and new stories…

So go see some stupid little bad theater, dive into some dive open mics, drag your dates to some rinky dinky stinky piano bar, read some pitiful new authors, hear some tragic off key voices…

Seek and ye shall find…

And, lastly, if there is money to be made, business will follow. More venues will open. More pianos will be played… More comedy clubs opened. More interesting movies will be made.

For the equal and opposite of “Build it and they will come,” is most likely, “Come and they will build it.”

– Quiche Out

 

I always loved this story, so I’m including it…

INTERVIEW BETWEEN LARRY KING AND BURT REYNOLDS (Larry King Live, Aired February 23, 2000 – 9:00 p.m. ET

KING: Yes. When did you know you were good?

REYNOLDS: I truthfully didn’t think I was good long after I was working.

KING: Really? You mean in those years you were making it you didn’t…

REYNOLDS: No, not in those, but in the earlier — because I went under contract to Universal in 1958 and was fired in 1959.

KING: With Clint Eastwood.

REYNOLDS: Well, Eastwood was — I always tell the story that we were fired the same day, but we weren’t. We were fired the same year. And he was fired because his Adam’s apple stuck out too far. He talked too slow. And he had a chipped tooth and he wouldn’t get it fixed. And I said, “Why are you firing me?” And they said, “You can’t act.” And I thought…

KING: Was that a blow, Burt?

REYNOLDS: No. I said — no, I said to Clint, you know, you are really screwed, because I can learn how to act. You can’t get rid of that Adam’s apple.

(LAUGHTER)

And it’s held him back. It’s held him back.

KING: He never made it.

REYNOLDS: You know, the next time that either one of us — him much earlier than me — worked at Universal, he got a million dollars. And then the first time I worked there — and it was quite a while afterwards…

CNN Transcripts

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Video Killed the Piano Bar

1973298_10203497240220435_155993020_oSo, tonight yet another Piano Bar is closing in Los Angeles, and, well, honestly, this particular “piano bar,” wasn’t a full time piano bar, but twice a week, over the past year or two, the bar had pianists schlep their keyboards and mics in on certain nights and allowed them to play & invite guest singers to the microphone.

I haven’t been in the cabaret game or attending piano bar open mics very long, but in the three or so years since I was pulled, somewhat literally, from singing in my closet to singing on stage, by my friend Todd Sherry, I’ve seen several places close… The Vermont (Ron Snyder), Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill, The Other Side, MJ’s (Bryan Miller &Lori Donato), Holiday Inn Glendale (Tommy Dodson)… And I’m sure there’s been others…

To have a place to sing in public, to try out new material, to work songs out in front of an audience, to perform, to sharpen, to keep rust off, to test genres and styles I never thought I’d sing, and to see, hear, and learn from other singers (both to friends and pros… Has helped me immensely in my stage craft. I’ve also met so many talented pianists, musicians and singers… Too many to list.

Never, before entering the Other Side, two plus years ago, to sing with Greg Glienna (who I met at The Vermont), could I have imagined myself in a “gay” bar, but since, I don’t care what kind of bar is hosting a piano bar that will let me get up to the microphone and sing… I’ll go. Because on those nights, it’s about the love and passion for music.

So, what is killing off piano bars?

Some people feel it’s the competition for your eyes and ears… That people are staying home, or going to the movies, or watching Closet Singer videos on YouTube, maxresdefaultor singing contest shows on TV… While others feel it’s Karaoke clubs, where people who love to sing can stand in front of a 27″ TV monitor and read the lyrics off the screen as odd videos play underneath.  I’ve also heard that piano bars and the love of musical standards are a generational thing, and that generation is slowly disappearing… And then… It also could be that everyone is all so busy.

While I have enjoyed myself some Karaoke, I have to tell you, there’s nothing like singing with a live musician or band, making it happen LIVE… It’s so creative and such a ride. To give a pianist sheet music, and to describe how YOU want the music to sound, to express the feel, the tempo, the beat… To tell the story of the lyrics with your own pace, your own tone, in your own key… There’s an honesty to it all that you just won’t hear in a Karaoke bar where most people are doing their absolute best to mimic what we’ve all heard play on the radio, or see on TV where everything is filtered, or sung to impress, not to express.

Thankfully there are still a few venues I can sing at in Los Angeles (The Gardenia, Lyric Hyperion Theatre, Don’t Tell Mamas…), and hopefully a new one or two will pop up. If you’re interested in attending an open mic, or a piano bar, contact me, and I’ll let you know when the next one is, that I know of.

Truly, I have learned, that music isn’t about competition, as television would have us believe, and singing is just about sounding like a recording as Karaoke clubs have trained us. True music is about expression, and individuality… It’s not about sounding and being perfect (ask Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits or Bob Dylan) And it is completely magical to hear the same song done completely differently by talented singers, who bring their own truth to the song.

– Quiche Out

 

The last song recorded at an open mic… (there’s a lot of them on YouTube)

A night “hosting” an open mic…

A few of the closet singer songs posted (there’s 70+ of them)…