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D and I went to see Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 last night. This is a broadway play based on 10 pages in the middle of War and Peace. This is my experience of watching this musical:
This is interesting
I am definitely buying the soundtrack if I can fight my way to the merch table
Still awesome
This has been going on for a long time
I wonder what time it is
I bet I'm not getting home til after midnight
I need to remember to pick up my computer from work, to finish reviewing that one thing
Is it still going on?
Oh. It's over.

More detail )

All that said, this is a fantastic musical and I had a great time. I'm very glad I got tickets (it was touch and go with TKTS—the app kept showing there were tickets available, then saying there weren't, then saying there were until I went to the booth to see), especially as this is the last weekend with Okieriete Onaodowan as Pierre.

It has some of the best stage craft I've ever seen, the lighting and sound are all perfect, the costumes are great (and costumes and sound won Tonys), the music is excellent (though not exactly catchy), and all the performances are top notch.

I have to call out my two favorite moments: "The Private and Intimate Life of the House," in which a crotchety senile old man rants and raves as his daughter scurries about trying to care for him—which doesn't sound funny from that description, but dear god it is. And "The Opera," in which the characters go to an opera which we are shown in flashes—the lights come up to a swell of avant garde music and incomprehensible gargling noises from the singers, then go to complete darkness to show another flash, now with acrobats doing something obscure, then another flash, until the lights come back up on the characters, their jaws dropped, with the perfect facial expressions of WTF WAS THAT. Yes, this is my impression of Russian opera. I was DYING.

I would rate Great Comet above most of the Broadway musicals I've seen in the last few years: better than traditional musicals like Kinky Boots and Something Rotten, way better than Waitress and Miss Saigon. And it's a total bummer that it's closing, especially as it is dying of self inflicted wounds.

If you have a chance to see it in the next few weeks, definitely try to do so, though since it's announced it's closing, tickets have been scarce. If not, well, at least there's a cast recording. This more than most things I've seen I really wish others of my friends saw (especially you, [personal profile] jethrien), so it's especially a bummer that it's closing.

As an aside, I was really amused that the merch table did not sell War and Peace. They instead sold Give War and Peace a Chance, a 300-page book about War and Peace. And you know, if I'm not up for reading War and Peace, I'm definitely not up for reading 300 pages about why I should. The lady at the merch table said that it was really popular, though, so oh well.

Old movies

Jul. 3rd, 2017 11:10 pm
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I've been listening to the You Must Remember This podcast, which is "forgotten stories of Hollywood's first century." I can sell this podcast as she reads all the out of print celebrity memoirs so you don't have to. The result of listening to this is I've ended up with a passel of old films to watch.

I've listened through two of her seasons, Dead Blondes and Six Degrees of Joan Crawford. Prior to this all I knew about Joan Crawford was Mommie Dearest. So I dug up some of her films (and by "dug up" I mean you can find almost anything on streaming nowadays).

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Watching this film, I can't help but feel like the whole problem would have been avoided with appropriate handicap accessibility. It's a solid psychological thriller that apparently inaugurated the "psycho-biddy" subgenre (which the internet assures me is a real thing). What I find most amusing about it is that when it initially came out, it was rated X in the UK. It's now rated the equivalent of PG-13. It speaks to a certain innocence in films in 1962 that this could be considered an X.

Daisy Kenyon
Joan Crawford gives great melodrama. In this film from 1947, Joan Crawford plays a working woman involved in an affair with a married man and a relationship with a WWII vet with PTSD. It interrogates some of what it meant to be a woman in the immediately post-war era, but is mostly interested in the melodrama of the love triangle, where everyone's damaged and complicated and there's no obvious answer. As I would say in my book reviews when I didn't know what else to write, if this is the sort of thing you like, then you'll like it. In other words, if you want to wallow in melodrama, check it out, but it's otherwise pretty unremarkable.

The Women
A movie that poses the question: is it possible to fail the Bechdel Test in a movie that only has women in it? The answer? Very nearly. This is a movie about one woman, Mary, finding out that her husband is having an affair with a shop girl (played by Joan Crawford). As there are only women in the film, that means the entire emotional aftermath of this is orchestrated by and played out against other women: the gossipy socialites who pretend to be Mary's friends but really want more scandal to keep themselves entertained, the eavesdropping servants, and the conniving other woman. This is a film of moral absolutes: the wronged wife is a saint, the other woman is a bitch. Its gimmick means that it sometimes contorts itself to keep men out of the cast--like the climactic fight between man and wife in which she asks for a divorce is related by the maid to the cook, as the maid breathlessly runs up and down the stairs to hear more of the fight so she can then narrate it to the cook. This also means that when it comes time for Mary to sort out her relationship with her (now ex) husband, she does it by getting catty and tearing down a bunch of other women, including one who was a friend of hers and never did anything to hurt her. I suppose having the men be passive prizes to be one based on women's interactions with each other is novel, but it also means that it's other women who disrupt marriages and must be fought, and not, you know, the cheating husbands.

The lesson of this movie, from 1939, is that Mary lets her pride get in her way, and when she found out her husband had an affair, she should have kept her mouth shut and done nothing about, rather than being a "modern" woman and insisting on a divorce. Also, women are awful. That's the moral. Which makes me wonder why in the name of god this was remade a few years ago. I can take overwhelming sexism in movies made 80 years ago. I have a hard time watching it in modern films.

Also, I had to pause this movie in the middle and do research in wikipedia because the plot had suddenly become incomprehensible. About halfway through the movie, she gets on a train to Reno that is filled with other women getting divorced, and then goes and lives on a dude ranch. Wikipedia tells me that, at the time, Nevada was the only state in the nation with no fault divorce, and in order to take advantage of this, you had to live there for six weeks to establish residency. Hence the dude ranch. They called it getting "Reno-vated." The movie was based on a play that was written about the author's actual experience getting divorced. Which doesn't make the sexism better? But maybe more sympathetic.

The other thing about this film is that, for being in 1939, all the women in it are disgustingly wealthy. When they throw around price tags ($100/hour therapy, a $225 nightie) I looked it up and found that that's around $3,000 and for the nightie. For the height of the Great Depression, excuse my lack of sympathy for the cat fighting of these women. (Yes, there's a literal cat fight, too.)


From the dead blonde series, I watched the following:

I Married a Witch
Though this is only a little over an hour, gosh it feels longer. Veronica Lake plays a witch who tries to seduce the descendant of the Puritan that imprisoned her to enact her revenge. Then she accidentally drinks her own love potion and falls for him. And he marries her cause...they need to stay overnight at a hotel with only one available room? No really, that's the reason. The innkeeper's husband happens to be a justice of the peace. Then Lake proceeds to magically get her husband elected governor because voter fraud is hi-larious. The highlight of the film is the witch's father, who keeps turning into a puff of smoke then hiding in rum bottles, which leads to him being too inebriated to remember any of his curses. This movie is a thing that happened.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
This Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell film is a classic for a reason. It is delightful fluff to watch. And its ultimate message is that gold digging is perfectly legit. Monroe's winning argument to her would-be father-in-law at the end of the film is that wanting to marry a rich man is like wanting to marry a pretty girl: it's not necessary but it helps. In other words, if guys want to buy it, she's got no problem selling it. It comes across as vaguely feminist, but only for the time and only if you assume the patriarchy will never change. It seems to say the only valuable thing about women is their looks, so get everything you can while you've got 'em. Yay?

Sullivan's Travels
This is an odd one, and one I'd had recommended to me elsewhere. Filmed in 1941, it's about a movie director (Sullivan) that wants to make a great epic about the suffering of the poor titled O Brother, Where Art Thou? If you're scratching your head over that title, the Coen Brothers took it from this film.

I'm actually going to put this behind a cut, cause this got long )

On the one hand, this is a really good analysis of privilege and how hard it is to give up, even when you ostensibly want to--after all, Sullivan retreats to his safety net over and over again whenever he hits a bump in the road. On the other hand, I don't think they meant to say that?

So yeah, it's a good movie, and you should check it out. But it's a bit through the looking glass for its tone versus its content.

Teacher's Pet
I also watched this, because it was on Netflix. It's a Clark Gable/Doris Day romantic comedy, and if you are thinking that Gable is old enough to be Day's father, you are correct. The plot is that Gable is an old-school newspaper man and Day is a newfangled journalism teacher. Gable enrolls in her class under a false name in order to humiliate her and show her that teaching journalism is futile. And then they fall in love. And that's a happy ending, we are told? Skip it, skip it, skip it.
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My cousin has an apartment on Christopher overlooking the parade route for the NYC Pride Parade, so I went over to a viewing party. (Which involved her having to come over and get me from the police barricade. They were stopping all comers, except residents. And the guys who bribed them with a pizza. This meant she spent the whole party walking a block to the barricade and getting people.)

Around three or so, the parade seemed to fizzle out. We were all like...that was short? Then someone reported that, according to Twitter, a BLM protest had blockaded the parade in front of Stonewall. (I have not been able to confirm this.) About 45 minutes later, the parade started again and I understood why.

Because the next block of people was the NYPD.

Let me tell you. The level of cognitive dissonance watching the NYPD march in the Pride parade I cannot even really handle. An older woman attending the party I was at said she felt physically ill and moved away from the windows until they had passed. On the one hand, I'm glad to see out and proud police officers marching with their spouses and children. On the other hand--this parade happens when and where it does because of the heinous acts of the NYPD. And it's not like that's all ancient history, either.

After them came the NY Corrections Officers. They had a prison bus that they'd decorated. I. I can't even. Really. That's just.

The government group I thought rocked it were the National Park Service for the Stonewall National Monument. Yes. That National Monument is only a year old, and yeah, the Park Service should march in the parade that commemorates the reason why Stonewall was made a monument.
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I have another music recommendation: Tanya Tagaq. Tagaq is an Inuk throat singer. If you've heard Tuvan throat singing, this is--not the same thing. Her music is very visceral. I would recommend listening to Aorta from her latest album. If you like that, you'll probably like other of her stuff. If you hate that, well. At least you'll have been exposed to something novel.
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I have another music recommendation: Tanya Tagaq. Tagaq is an Inuk throat singer. If you've heard Tuvan throat singing, this is--not the same thing. Her music is very visceral. I would recommend listening to Aorta from her latest album. If you like that, you'll probably like other of her stuff. If you hate that, well. At least you'll have been exposed to something novel.
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So I'm not sure where to come down on LJ vis a vis the new TOS. I'm not sure I'm quite ready to delete it. But I think I will stop cross-posting. I'm on DW as ivyfic--drop me a line and friend me over there.
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This time of year is kind of like New Year's for auditors. I've actually been talking about my new year's resolutions at work, even though it's March. Um...happy Nowruz?

One of them is to actually post. I still write LJ posts, just...in my head. And never get around to actually typing them. I also want to put more of my photo albums into photo books, and I love adding email and lj posts for flavor, so I'm falling down a nostalgia hole that's reminding me that I do enjoy reading my own posts, at least, even if no one else does. So!

Two random things make a post.

1) Saw Logan. A++. spoilers )

2) I am continuously on a new music discovery voyage, and man, I found something incredible. Maxida Marak and the Downhill Bluegrass Band. Marak is a Sami singer (the indigenous people of northern Sweden). The collaboration with the bluegrass band seems to be a one-off, which is a shame, because the album "Mountain Songs and Other Stories" is flawless. It includes fantistic covers of "Darling Corey" and "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive," as well as traditional Sami songs with bluegrass arrangements. If you are a fan of bluegrass at all, check it out.
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D was over last night, so I suggested watching The Manchurian Candidate. He hadn't seen either, so I thought we should go with the original. I'd watched it for history class in highschool and remember being absolutely gripped.

Here's the thing. It's really clunky. Really clunky. The acting is stiff (with notable exceptions for Angela Lansbury and Vivien Leigh, who got top billing and about 15 lines of dialogue). The camera angles are ostentatious but artless. Things are constantly out of focus. I was retroactively even more impressed by Citizen Kane for its ability to pull off deep field focus, cause this movie utterly fails at it, and it was made thirty years later.

And the structure, too--oof. There's a third-person narrator for exactly three scenes. I assumed it was a news reel until it started talking about Frank Sinatra's nightmares. And then...it disappears for the rest of the film. The first hour to hour and a half is exposition. Some flashbacks, but mostly just lengthy expository speeches. I understand why it's reputed to be one of the worst books ever written. This film is also full of people proposing marriage at first sight, and everyone else just rolling with that.

But for all that, it is completely unmatched for its capturing of a political moment. I'm going to rewatch the remake tonight to see, in direct comparison, how it solves the narrative shortcomings. But a movie made in 2004 comes from a very different context than one from 1962.

So definitely watch the original.

I think it's striking, too, in that the movies that were made in the 60s that we still watch were remarkable or ground breaking in some way. It's easy to forget what they were remarkable in comparison to. We don't generally watch the run of the mill cinema from the era. So being thrust into something that mishandles black and white and can't focus the camera is jarring. (Also people blink SO MUCH. I don't know why, but it's distracting.)

ETA: just rewatched the 2004 remake. It's an all around better film, but somehow less special for being a more standard paranoid psychological thriller. Does some very interesting things with the original, including giving the women way more agency, and not having everyone act like a nut. (Seriously, in the original--people just don't behave that way. I don't mean the brainwashing. I mean everything else. I don't think the author understood how human beings work.) One hundred percent worth watching both, especially to watch Liev Schreiber and Denzel Washington both slowly breakdown in extreme close up staring straight into camera. Seriously, they are both magnificent actors, and well worth watching.
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On New Year's Eve, I went with mithras to see Othello at the New York Theatre Workshop, starring David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig. I...don't ever need to see Othello again, I don't think. That was pretty much perfect.

This was a ridiculously hard ticket to get--mithras queued online as soon as the tickets went on sale, and in the course of the five minutes it took her to get to the front of the queue, we watched every single performance sell out, except for New Year's Eve. When we got there, we saw why.

The theater only seats 220 people, and these seats were arrayed on three sides of the stage, in bleachers. The first row was on the level with the stage, such that people on those seats had to keep their feet tucked in lest they trip the actors.

We were in the first row.


To watch such amazing actors from sometimes only a foot away was incredible. You could see thoughts entering their heads as they spoke--the moment when it occurs to Iago to use Cassio's vapid affection, the moment when Othello begins to believe his wife is unfaithful. It takes great actors to make the words of Shakespeare seem like natural thought, and to add layers to them beyond what is obvious on the page. And that's what we got from every member of the cast.

It was staged as a military barracks, with cast members lounging about on sleeping pads in the background of most scenes, playing guitar hero, or bench pressing, or cleaning their guns. The lighting was largely done with handheld lights--cell phones, camp lanterns, headlamps. The entire first scene was in pitch blackness. (And it says something about Daniel Craig, that I spent it thinking we'd gotten the understudy, because I didn't recognize the voice of Iago.)

The casual misogyny and masculinity of this backdrop informed Othello's character, so when you first see him explode at Cassio, you can see the violence he is capable of and will enact at the end of the play.

And it wasn't just Oyelowo and Craig that were brilliant. I've never liked Cassio before, but this actor made him both funny and pitiable. And Roderigo--god, Roderigo stole the show. Every time Iago manipulated him, he had this look on his face of deep skepticism, but like a mouse mesmerized by a snake, not quite able to pull away. Even his line, "Nobody come? Then shall I bleed to death," got a laugh.

What I was most struck by, though, is in the past I watched this play pitying Othello. But this time I watched it silently yelling at Desdemona to run away. Watching a man murder his wife while she's begging for just another hour? God. That's awful to watch. Makes me wonder why people quote "loved not wisely, but too well," out of context, as it is what Othello uses to justify his murder.

So yeah. That was incredible. In a year in which I saw Hamilton, I'm going to have to put this down as the highlight of my theater-going.
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Another year, another Yuletide fic written at the absolute last minute. I used this as an assignment to rewatch the series, including venturing into season three, which I never watched in the initial airing, having given up somewhere between the sentient plants and the prehistoric crocodile in season two. (Let's just say I fully understand why Roy Scheider quit.) I stand by the first season, though, as solidly middle-of-the-road television. That world-building and those characters deserved so much better than they got.

Anyway. Fic!

Title: Surely You're Joking, Dr. Wolenczak
Fandom: seaQuest DSV
Rating: Gen
Summary: In an alternate future off of the season one canon, Dr. Lucas Wolenczak writes his memoirs. With the most sincere flatter meant for Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman.

Surely You're Joking, Dr. Wolenczak
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Dear Yuletide writer—
Thank you for writing a story for me! In general, I love angst, and stories focused on characters. I love reading about people negotiating their relationship with each other. It's a thing. My do not wants are rape/noncon, character death, torture, graphic violence, extended medical descriptions, bloodplay. I hope I've given you enough detail below to get your bunnies started. Slash, gen, and het are all fine, as are threesomes and moresomes.

Constantine (TV)
This show was gone before its time. Really I just want team bonding between John, Chas, and Zed. Or! Chas and Zed getting to know each other without John as their only thing in common. Or! More Chas angst around his particular curse. The show gave us some, but I'd love more angsty backstory of how his and John's friendship got from that moment to where it is in the show.

Almost Human
Another show tragically gone before its time. What I'd love more than anything is a story that made sense of the soup of this show's worldbuilding. (The fact that they aired it out of order didn't help.) What is the wall? What happened during the revolt? Anything that capitalizes on all the tantalizing hints. With Dorian and John of course--the charisma of those two was off the charts.

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Did I mention I love angst? Cause this movie (and the book--I've read that too, so have no objections to book canon) brings the aaaaaaaaangst. Really anything that rolls around in Edmond's super-emo, competence-porn awesomeness. (And now I'm just envisioning a Person of Interest AU where Reese is the Count and--no! No! No crossovers for yuletide! I will not break the rules! ...But that would be awesome, right?)
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My work has a women's group that has a book club. I recently asked the local bookstore guy what books would be a good pick for such a group. Which is how I ended up reading

Title: #Girlboss
Author: Sophia Amoruso
Summary: Founder of Nasty Gal and millionaire in her thirties writes about...stuff.

I am giving up on this book. It is extremely short. It is nonetheless extremely annoying. The author's problems are threefold:
1 - She cannot write.
2 - She has no idea why her business succeeded and thus cannot share any useful insight.
3 - She has a stunning amount of unchecked privilege.

Point the first
I give you a passage from her description of some of the jobs she worked before Nasty Gal:
Part of my job was to wear gloves and massage mayonnaise into the tuna. Sexy! I'd slap the tuna into a bowl and pour out half a gallon of mayonnaise, put gloves on, and massage the mayo in with my hands.

That is two sentences (three, if you count "Sexy!") that say the exact same thing. This is how I know this book wasn't ghostwritten. No decent writer would set up that second sentence with the first one.

Point the second
It's really hard to chart the path that led here, but it happened, and I did it.

If that's literally all the insight you have into how you built a successful business, why the fuck are you writing a book about it? All Amoruso seems to understand about her success is that she just seems to be good at this.

Yes, it's true: Hundreds of thousands of businesses fail. Mine succeeded. Was that all just because I "got lucky"? I don't really think so.

This passage continues with a description of how it wasn't luck, luck would imply she did nothing, and she worked a ton. Thus missing the point that the owners of those other hundreds of thousands of businesses also worked a ton and failed anyway.

She then starts talking about the power of magic and how if you write a sigil with what you want and carry it around with you you'll succeed cause... ??? Obviously this has objectively worked, cause look at where she is! She keeps saying she knows it's not reeeeeeal (airquotes), but it's totally real. It's not the Secret, that's bullshit, it's a totally different theory that if you think positive thoughts you'll get everything you want. This is the point where I stopped reading.

Point the third
I'll just let Amoruso lay this one out for you:
When you're asking for a raise, [f]irst, be really honest with yourself and make sure that you deserve the raise that you're asking for.

Thank you, the anti-Sheryl Sandberg.

When I returned from Hawaii...I found out that someone had ordered brand-new Herman Miller Aeron chairs for the entire office. ... I happened to have a Herman Miller Aeron chair in my office. To me, it was a rite of passage. ... There was no way that I was going to have interns rolling around on these things!

Oh, fuck you.

When your time spent making money is significantly greater than your time spent spending money, you will be amazed at how much you can save without even really thinking about it.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck yoooooooooooooooooooooou.

She also has a whole section on how she used to be a shoplifting anarchist, and she still really is an anarchist, she just likes nice stuff, you know, so she's an anarchist with millions of dollars and a Porsche. Fuck the system. Right.

To top it off, she has a lot of epigraphs, including this one:
There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no independence quite so important, as living within your means.--Calvin Coolidge

Did you really just quote Calvin Coolidge on fiscal responsibility? Calvin Coolidge. The guy who presided over the start of the Great Depression and probably said that in a speech to some people in a bread line. That's the guy you want to quote on the importance of budgeting.

I'd also like to point out that her entire business is built on women paying ridiculous mark ups for clothes they don't need. And then she's going to write a book lecturing about how you don't really need to buy those shoes? Dear lady, you realize it's probably your biggest customers reading this book, right? Maybe you don't want to call them idiots for their spending habits.

In conclusion. Do not read this book. Do not recommend it to friends. Especially don't recommend it to women. This book is the opposite of feminist. Unless it proves that women entrepreneurs can be clueless privileged windbags just like men. In which case...progress?
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I went to two shows in the past two days, neither of which I had a ticket for before day of, cause sometimes that's what being a New Yorker means.

Kinky Boots - It's facile, it's forgettable, it's fluff, but dear god is it fun. Just, a load of fun. My only objection is to the sound design, because when the rock band came in, I couldn't understand any of the words. This is not a play in which that matters, but it's still annoying. Also, I want ALL THE BOOTS.

How to Be an American - This was a short-run debut musical in concert (ie, with book), based on the life of George Washington Plunckett, one of the members of Tammany Hall. I've actually read the book it's based on, which I think makes me the audience. For this, D and I got rush tickets for $20 about 5 minutes before curtain, and that's about how much it was worth. It was only an hour, which is good, because it had no plot. It was structured as a faux Tammany Hall meeting, as an excuse to deliver bits of Plunckett's actual speeches (for example, the difference between honest graft and dishonest graft, the finer points of repeat voting at the polls, and the definition of an honest man as someone who once bought stays bought). It opened with a historically accurate but nonetheless cringe-inducing faux Native American set piece, where they sing about how "the only tribe of Indians who will never die at all/is Tammany Hall" and just--oh god. Sometimes I forget, with how bad things are today, how much worse they have been in the past.

They gave us little American flags to wave during the "rally," and at the end, we all stood and sang the national anthem. I recognize that there is a protest going on around the national anthem right now, but I felt this was an appropriately satirical context to sing it. First--what a dick song. Really. It's only singable by actual singers. It's impossible for everyone else. Second--after the play, someone tapped me on the shoulder to compliment me on my voice. This is not unexpected; it happens every time I sing in a crowd (for example, any time I go to church). What was unexpected is that she asked me for my business card because she needs to hire someone to sing the national anthem at events. Ooookay. I gave her my spam email, but I am not a professional singer. I just want to know what these "events" are.


Sep. 4th, 2016 01:16 pm
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On Tuesday, I saw Hamilton.

It felt like I spent the evening on a different planet. I bought the ticket a year ago, because I realized if I wanted to see it, I should buy the ticket before the Tony nominations, and I refused to pay more than $100. This meant clicking through every single performance till I found the first one with a single ticket for $100. Since I bought the ticket so long ago, I've had several dreams about seeing it, and I was incredibly anxious I'd forget the date or the time or lose the ticket or they wouldn't let me in or something. Even when I was waiting in line, I didn't believe it until they actually scanned my ticket and let me into the theater.

There was also the anxiety of, I was pretty sure this was my only chance to see the show. Since I'm an accountant, to put it an accountant way, the book value of my ticket, that is the historical cost, was $100. But the replacement value was $400 or $600. So I kept thinking, what if I get a headache? What if I have to pee? What if the people sitting next to me are jerks?

What I'm saying is, I see a lot of live theater, and the little imperfections are just part of it and usually don't bother me much, but because this was HAMILTON, and because I had to wait so long, OMG WHAT IF IT ISN'T PERFECT.

Then I got into theater, and holy crap, I've never seen merch move like this. I mean, it makes sense. If you spend $80 on a theater ticket, no, you're not going to spend another $40 on a sweatshirt. But if you spent $2,000 to take your family to see it? Then hell yes, you're going to buy a $35 T-shirt. At least then you'll have something tangible for what you just spent.

All this meant that people clogged up the lobby; you could barely move. The restrooms were also in the basement. I was sitting in the rear mezzanine, which was three flights up. I ran up and down those stairs three times--twice before the show, because I am an anxious dooby, and once at intermission. The bathroom line for intermission wrapped all the way into the orchestra section and down the aisle. I booked it from my seat as soon as the lights came up and still only made it back just before the second act started.

Then the seats themselves, which were just the minimum size I could wedge myself into. My thigh bone was too long for the distance between the rows, which meant it was one of those where you have to twist your feet to the sides and angle your legs and that's the one position you can sit in. For the next three hours.

The atmosphere was also something else. It was like a rock concert or opening night of a Marvel movie. The lights went down and everyone was like WOOOOOO! Every time a new person came on stage WOOOOO! And I was in the nosebleeds, which is where the true fans are, the ones who are just grateful to be in the theater. It was electric. In all my performances, there have only been one or two times when I could tell the audience was on board like that, and there was energy between them and the stage. And Hamilton gets that electricity every night?

The show then has so many words, you have to watch it with laser-like focus, attention unwavering or you'll miss something. All of this to say, I entered into an alternate physical reality that ran by its own rules.

Then the show itself.

I managed to avoid listening to the score at all (except for snatches of three songs) before watching the show, and that was the right choice for me to experience. Odd to talk about spoilers when it's based on historical fact, but a) I knew the broad strokes of the history, that doesn't mean I knew the granular details, and b) even if I had known all of that, the choices made in presenting the story are their own kind of spoiler.

So the rest of this is going under a spoiler cut )

I realize I am late to the party on this one. It's so weird to suddenly be a newbie in a fandom that I've strenuously avoided so far. So I know it's been discussed to death by everybody already. I'm just going to enjoy getting to know the soundtrack recording, and finally getting to dive into this really awesome thing.

Real World

Sep. 3rd, 2016 12:25 pm
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Back in July, I picked up a bunch of used CDs from the Princeton Record Exchange (still my favorite music store--seriously, if you're ever in Princeton, check it out) and have been slowly working my way through the stack.

So far the real gem was Afro Celt Sound System. I looked into it a little bit, and discovered they're released by Real World Records, a label founded by Peter Gabriel that focuses on world music (and that means the whole world, including Europe and North America). Based on that, the next time the local used record store set up a stand at Grove St, I scanned the boxes for Real World releases (they have a distinct color band on the spine, so are easy to id) and picked up a few more.

So far, everything has been excellent (Jocelyn Pook, Geoffrey Oryema). I've never been a fan of a record label before, but I'm thinking I will repeat this plan in the future, and focus on picking up Real World records whenever I'm buying used CDs. I'm sure there are some stinkers in the over 200 albums they've released, but whoever gives the musical direction to the label seems to have tastes very close to mine.
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I watch a lot of documentaries, and I always mean to post reviews and never do, so I think I'm going to try posting five minute reviews as I go. Here's the first:

The Galapagos Affair
When half a dozen people get fed up with society and independently decide to move to the same extremely remote island so that no one can ever tell them what to do ever again, it goes about as well as you'd expect. And by that I mean two, possibly three, murders. John Galt eat your heart out.

Also, it turns out that if you completely cut yourself off from civilization (for real, not the Thoreau way), you don't get a life of contemplation, you get a life of unending manual labor and starvation.

The fact that everyone involved in this series of events were Germans who walked away from civilization in the thirties means they weren't actually wrong about the way they felt things were heading. Not that they did much better on their own.
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If you are not yet mad enough at mining companies, governmental bureaucracy, or how this country continues to treat Native Americans, have I got a book for you! I just finished Yellow Dirt by Judy Pasternak, which is about uranium mining on the Navajo reservation. I picked it up after my trip to Utah--I even went out to Monument Valley in the reservation, in the middle of the uranium mining belt, and had never heard anything about this.

The short version is, the Navajo and Hopi reservation in the Four Corners area is home to the largest deposits of uranium ore in the United States. Starting with the Manhattan project and continuing through the Cold War, there was a uranium boom that led to the opening of hundreds of mines throughout the reservation. Despite the tribe's attempts to regulate, to require that mining companies restore the land, and, frankly, to get some of the wealth coming out of the soil, they got screwed. Most of the money went to the mining corporations (including one partly owned by George H.W. Bush's daddy, so some of the Bush wealth is uranium wealth).

Miners, of course, had no idea what the dangers were and literally zero attempts were made to make it safe for them. When the uranium boom wound down in the sixties, the mining companies left their open pits and mine tailings as is. And so over the last fifty years, we've been watching a grand experiment in what long-term radiation poisoning does to a population. If you think I'm being flip, I'm not--health service employees intentionally hid the dangers from miners so that they could collect untainted evidence of the consequences of uranium mining.

This isn't just a book about an environmental disaster, though. This is about a group of people, the Navajo, that the US government spent hundreds of years trying to wipe off the planet, and when that didn't work, tried to force them off their land. The Navajo won an almost unique 1868 treaty that allowed them to return to their homeland, where they've remained.

And now America's wars, gung ho patriotism, and greed poisoned that land. It's like the uranium mining was designed to accomplish both goals: kill the Navajo, take their land. It's awful. And the book is full of decades of people, both Navajo and white allies, trying to get something to be done to a collective shrug from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and an alphabet soup of government bureaus who agreed it was bad, but wasn't their problem. For example, the EPA regulated mills, but not the mines. White people work at mills. Navajo work at the mines. Or, there was a town outside of the reservation that had a number of houses built out uranium mining leftovers. The EPA paid to tear down all the contaminated houses, clean the soil, and build a contamination free town. There were also contaminated houses built on the reservation. Despite those houses being identified at the time the white town was cleaned up, it took forty years for the EPA to start cleaning up the Navajo homes. They didn't try very hard to warn them about the danger, either. And when they did build uncontaminated homes, one couldn't even be used by its new owner as she was handicapped and they hadn't included a wheelchair ramp.

And in the meantime, entire extended families are dying of cancer in their fifties. Babies are stillborn or being born with crippling, life-limiting disabilities. The book can't even quantify how bad the impact was because the first studies were only started at the time of publication.

The book has flaws--as it is a saga that covers seventy years, there are hundreds of players. I constantly lost track of who she was talking about. The author also positions herself, and her articles on the subject, as the deciding factor that finally got something done, which is kinda bull.

The fact is, this is still a disaster. It will take decades to even attempt to decontaminate the land, and it's doubtful federal authorities have the money or patience for that. (If you're thinking, that's what the Superfund is for, think again. The Superfund has decided over and over that too few people live on the reservation to be worth its attention.) The Navajo Nation has passed a universal ban on uranium mining. But that hasn't stopped efforts to start mining again just off the reservation. Because we all know that a poisoned aquifer in a desert will obey legal boundaries and stay out of the Navajo land.


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October 2017



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