Thursday, December 28, 2006
I'm not really a "cat person". I did have a cat, Fiona (she died several months ago); and I like cats, but I don't wear socks with cats embroidered on them, or have a screensaver with kittens sleeping in coffee cups and shoes. However, I've never turned away a good pounce on the lap and a gentle purr. So, my comments about The Moscow Cats Theatre should be taken from the view of an average theatergoer.
The Moscow Cats Theatre has been touring the country for several months after playing to sold-out audiences in New York City. The show is geared to cat lovers, parents and their kids; however I looked at their web-site and thought it might be an amusing afternoon. Besides, The New York Post called the show “Spec-Cat-ular!” and People Magazine called it “Incredible!” With reviews like that I was half expecting The Blue Man Group Meets Cats; my expectations were high. I got the tickets and off we went to beautiful downtown Skokie, Illinois to see the cat circus.
From the start we knew this was going to be interesting. The stage was bedazzled in some cheap looking colored shimmer cloth. To the side was a folding table holding a keyboard and laptop; underneath was littered with cardboard boxes. As people began to file in, children, grandmas all excited by the prospect of the circus cats, the keyboard man pressed a button to start the music.
Now I love pan flute as much as the next guy, but this wasn’t even real pan flute. I know that sound, and it comes with those low-end keyboards that can be purchased at K-Mart for under $150. And the pan flute setting is the second most annoying sound, right beneath synthesized saxophone.
Whoosh….!!! A grey cat ran across the stage, then it ran back followed by a furry white, happy faced dog; the audience screamed in delight at this. "Yes! Now we are in for some real cat action. Bring on those incredible cats!” Another cat ran across the stage followed by another cat; this was followed by another cat, followed by Yuri the Clown, dangling a cat toy, making two of the cats jump at it. I knew at that moment we were in trouble. Yuri is the founder of the Moscow Cat Theatre and is the head cat wrangler. Yuri is not your Emmett Kelly type of clown, in the traditional sense. His long nose is his own, and his blond shag hair is more reminiscent of a middle aged Vivian Vance making a guest appearance on "Here's Lucy", than regular clown hair. But he's still nightmarish. He looked like Jeremy Hilary Boob, the Nowhere Man of “Yellow Submarine” fame, except Jeremy Hilary Boob with blond Vivian Vance hair.
From the start it was clear that this show was not about the cats, but about Yuri, and his need for applause. Repeatedly, he cajoled the audience into clapping in rhythm. “Clap, clap” he mimed as if something was going to happen when we all got a good rhythm going; Which, by the way, was almost impossible to do with the pan flute music. Ultimately, once we all clapped enough, he continued with his next piece of clown business with a drooping flower, doing a floppy shoe stepping dance or acting like he was a painter; pretty dull, standard clown stuff. There were three clowns: the sexy woman clown who looked a bit like Toni Basil of “Mickey” fame. Her big trick was to take a bunch of Hoola-Hoops and swing them around. The third clown’s trick was… come to think of it I don’t think he had a trick; he just seemed annoyed. I’m sure this clown act isn’t any different from any other act seen in let's say…a European shopping mall. The only difference is that those clowns do not have a captive audience who have come to see performing cats.
We were being held hostage and the ransom was "clap for us or no more cat tricks".
Cat-wise, this was pretty much the show: Cats ran across the stage. Cats were pulled by wires on platforms. Cats ran up a pole into a bird house. A cat turned off a light; that was a big hit with the under four crowd. Other highlights included a cat jumping out of an urn and then back in an urn, then back out of the urn; and a cat swiping at Yuri whenever he tried to touch his stomach. A couple of times Yuri brought out cat with a sparkly cloth thrown over it. The bewildered but valiant cat lifted his head up a couple of times and tried to walk around, resigned to its life of show business. "Yes, dinner time is almost here, the purple sparkle cloth has been thrown over my head again." But Yuri just smiled and prompted the audience for applause, when he, to no one's surprise revealed that under the sparkly cloth was ‘gasp’ a cat. The laptop guy started to play the sound of a cat howling as if it were in pain.
The show was just over an hour, but soon into the performance I sensed that the audience had begun to realize it had been rooked. Where were the cat acrobatics? Sure, a cat climbed up the pole into the bird house, and a cat jump onto the pillow trick from about twenty feet, and most impressively a cat doing a handstand. But after a while I had gotten the feeling that something was missing… To quote Peggy Lee: Is That All There Is to a Cat Circus?
Then the show took a bizarre turn with a dream sequence where Yuri dreams that he's being chased by some strange alien/lizard-like creatures. The creatures had giant foam rubber hands that they put down after a couple minutes after 'booga-booga-ing' in front of Yuri. From then on they just wander around aimlessly. Yuri then introduced what I understood later to be the Queen of the Cats. The Queen, in her Walgreen’s Halloween Princess Outfit, swayed and waved her arms around in a lost Ophelia sort of way. I thought, "Is this what all entertainment would be like if we hadn't won the Cold War".
My mind was wandering and I was getting a headache from the continuous synthesized pan flute playing a twenty minute version of “Besame Mucho”, punctuated by a punch- in of maniacal laughter to emphasize that Yuri was having a bad dream.
Also, I noticed that there was much made of things being hot. “Oooh, that light bulb is hot”—“Oooh, that coffee pot is hot; As if in clown school they excelled in playing that ‘something was hot’. I can hear their New York agent "Listen Yuri, stick with the hot stuff, it's what you do best. The kids today, they’ll love that hot bit." But hot or not the show began to lose steam after the dream sequence.
So as in all great shows, it was time for audience participation. I pity people who come to the theatre to enjoy an evening of light entertainment and find that they have to be part of the show. Imagine thinking you were going to spend a relaxing afternoon watching cats jump through hoops and then finding yourself dancing with a clown girl in front of hundreds of people. Try explaining that problem to a therapist. The six men were taken out of the audience, humiliated and then bent over, asses to the audience, as a cat jumped from back to back. At this point the audience was anxious for anything cat related that did not include a cat being pulled across the stage by a wire. It was a hit!
In a strange turn, later on one of the more attractive of these men was pointed out sitting in the front row and accused by Yuri of impregnating the Queen of Cats. The Queen of Cats pointed an accusing finger at him, holding a blanket in her arms, as the laptop guy played a loop of a baby crying. He was handed the blanket and a white fluffy dog jumped out of the bundle. Yuri mussed this guy’s blond hair and pointed to the audience for more applause, gesturing that this man had had sex with the woman and she had given birth to a dog. At that point, I think I was starting to blackout; my head was beginning to throb; The music had turned from pan flute to the ‘ju-ju-ju’ chorus voices setting. Third in the list of horrible keyboard modes. But at that moment I understood why this was a hit in New York. I think that they must have been nostalgic for the days of 80’s Performance Art. I mean, if Annie Sprinkle could look at her vagina in a mirror and pack the house, why not this?
As a finale, the Cat Queen came out riding a bicycle with three cats perched on platforms, as she road around the stage, while Yuri continued to beckon for more applause. He then took a cat that was holding on to a rugged platform and swung it over the heads of people in the first couple rows. The house lights came up and he walked around allowing the cat to be petted as its claws dug unto the perch. Then Yuri walked back on stage and then everyone gave some weak bows; and
that was it!
A smattering of confused applause as people wondered if it was over and then began to file out as if they were leaving church. I was stunned. This was the show that sold out months in New York! Held over! National tour! I left the theatre and noticed that both Lily Tomlin and Kathy Griffin were being promoted for upcoming events. I thought perhaps Kathy Griffin should somehow incorporate cats into her show. Put one in a dress and say that it’s Paris Hilton. Trust me Kathy, it would be a hit.
Needless to say, I’m still a bit stunned. I've wondered, if I had known more about it, would I have decided not to buy the $50 tickets. However, if the show had been better, would I still be thinking about it? This fantastically odd show was worth far more than the money, because it's something I'll never forget as long as I live.
Monday, December 25, 2006
Me (at 3 years) circa 1966. This was the Christmas that my family still talks about; My mother went to Alden's Catalog Store and bought almost every toy she could find. My sister Cheryl woke me up at the crack of dawn to open presents, I was barely awake and really cranky. It was a heavily documented Christmas, with photos, 8mm film and audio tape. The highlight of the morning was when I took a metal plane and hit my sister over the head with it.
About ten years ago I worked for a radio show called "This American Life". I supplied them with music and sometimes contributed with a feature or two. (More on that later.) During that time, I gave their producer Peter Clowny my audio tape of this Christmas. He edited it into a cute segment illustrating that Christmas is all about expectation. Go to This American Life
I transferred the tape to a digital file this morning. I offer a 7 minute clip of the tape CLICK HERE.
It was difficult to listen to it. This year hasn't been a good one. My mother is still dealing with the effects of her stroke from last year, and my brother continues to battle his cancer. 1966 truly feels like it was 40 years ago. Looking back that 1966 was the best Christmas ever.
So Merry Christmas and Happy Blogging to everyone. And Thanks for reading my silly little ramblings.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
For anyone who grew up in Chicago in the 60s and 70s Hardrock Coco and Joe, Suzi Snowflake and Frosty the Snowman cartoons have a special meaning. They played every year on The Ray Rayner Show and Garfield Goose. They bring out the spirit of Christmas, dark, creepy and just a little stressful.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
(click photos for bigger views)
Although I love shopping on the Internet, there still is nothing like sitting on the pot with a cataloge. Suddenly things that you'd snub your nose up at in the Salvation Army Thrift store become that one item that you need to make your life complete.
There is something about 70's furnishings that are colorful, but at the same time have a feeling of the homely girl putting on too much make-up. I mean everything had (what the kids call today) bling!
Especially lamps. Growing up during this time was to be surrounded by colorful and crazy dangling lamps. Try explaining to your average teenager that you used to hang big glass balls from the ceiling on plant hooks, and that they didn't give off much light, but took up a large part of the room. I spent many a rainy afternoon seeing if I could hit the hanging swing lamp with a pillow to make it swirl light all around the room.
Even the appliances were groovy.
And although Target is now selling reproductions of plastic furniture, they hardly suggest that you furnish your whole home with it. My family had a blow up chair around this time. I recall that it only lasted about a week before it sprung a leak and then was put in the yard to cover up the tomato plants that winter.
Though never a drug user myself, I often partook of the paraphernalia. I still can almost taste the colors of the black light posters in my sisters room; Or the one my brother had over his couch in his living room of the nude African woman sitting on the tiger. And in our basement, before it because a huge storage room, the faux wood panel bar had lights in the front that came on with the music. For hours I would listen to stereophonic music mesmerized by the blink blink red right, the blick, blick blue left.
The bar in our basement was like a relic from a bygone day, by the time I was ten my parents had stopped having people over for parties and it stood empty and quite in the corner with it's smoking and drinking toys hidden in the shelves below along with my father's drill bits and hammers. The smoking items are particularily interesting; there was a big anti-smoking campiagn around that time. Smoking = Cancer, so nothing is funnier than death giving you a cigarette. I used to have a music box cigarette case shaped like a coffin that had a skull bring up a cigarette, while the death March played 'dum, dum, da, dum'.
So, happy Xmas shopping. Perhaps a coughing ashtray is just what your boss would like this year.
Monday, December 18, 2006
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Years ago, I sang a lot. It's always been a passion; and I've sung in every situation you can think of: Tupperware Parties, Lion's Club meetings, gay bars at 3AM, frat parties, the middle of Lake Michigan, but lately just in my car on the way to work. Case in point, here are two performances ten years apart... one was in 1994 at Wigwood, Atlanta's version of N.Y's Wigstock. During the years I sang "Love For Sale" more times than I can remember. I used a scratchy Music Minus One album for my backing track. The drag mini-queen with me is the one and only Sugarbaby. A mini-masterpiece of a performer. I had no idea that she was going to join me during this performance... but I'm glad she did. RIP Sugar Baby!
Fast Forward to this Feburary, Gary and I were going to do a Karoeke love song contest on Valentine's Day. I suggested "Endless Love" because its one of the best of the 80s love song duets. The video is funny, because it's just us rehearsing what we were going to do on stage. We thought if we did this completely seriously the more absurd it would be; I'm doing my best Barbra Streisand meets Celine Dion video parody. As of this date this video has had 6300 views on Youtube. Which to me is embarrasing and very funny. My favorite thing is how creeky the floor is. Enjoy!!!
Monday, December 11, 2006
Sunday, December 10, 2006
One of the most charming aspects of "Women's Household Magazine" are the sections where the 'ladies' send in photos of themselves surrounded by their collections.
As a fellow collector of stuff, I can understand their predicament of how to show of your collection of which you are so proud. Sometimes all you can do is smile, point and say "Hello World --
MY COLLECTION IS MOLDS!"
Bertha Browder's collection of fancy tall bottles is pitiful. It think she just submitted this photo as an excuse to show off her gams. But I think her picture of the bleak landscape of Mars made from scraps and shells is beautiful.
Mrs. Horvath's family probably scoffed at her fine collection of stuffed animals, but I hope someone kept the Beatles stuffed toys.
Anna Mary's collection shows that crafts are not for sissies. I can feel my fingers being sliced open just looking at this picture.
I much prefer the soft craft of fancy work.
Now as a collector of all sorts of strange recordings this collection is of special interest to me. My parents always had tape recorders around and we were constantly taping something; a message for my brother in the army, Christmas morning, or just screaming into the mike as loud as possible. But I've never heard of tape sharing clubs. I have one cassette that might come close, from the 70s a senior couple in Florida sent a tape to their friends in New York. A large part of the tape was the wife doing dishes and her husband yelling at her to come in the other room and to say something.
Anyone have any tape pals tapes? Or was 'tape pals' a euphemism for something else. In which case I really want to hear some of these recordings.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Just think, somewhere in some dusty box is a letter from Lady Bird Johnson congratulating someone for thinking of painting scenes of Old Mexico on garbage cans. Get thee to ebay with your letter Mrs Dugan.
(from Women's Household, of course)
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Lana Cantrell is one of those mysteries of the 60's. An over-the-top belter who could compete with the best of them. After Barbra Streisand hit in 1963, each record company had to have their belter;
A young quirky singer who would bust the tubes out of your new amplifier. Somewhere squeezed between Laine Kazan and Diahann Carroll was Lana Cantrell. Lana -- with her six RCA albums, but no hits. Lana -- one of the many reachers of fame in a entertainment world changing so fast that even the best and biggest of the stars were faltering. Lana! Was she just a little behind the times, or perhaps too far ahead?
She hailed from Australia, but as it says on the back of her "And Then There Was Lana" album "You can only go so far in Australia." Coming to America gave her 15 appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, on the Kraft Music Hall, and the Red Skelton Show, tearing up the scenery with her explosive high notes and ear shattering emotional endings.
I had never heard of her until I started buying used records at Village Thrift and Salvation Army stores. Her albums had enticing titles like, "Another Shade of Lana", "The Now of Then", "Lana!", or my favorite "Act III" which has her standing on what looks like the set where Samantha would go with Endora to get away from Darren.
I'd never found one of her albums that wasn't scratched so much that they were almost unplayable; As if their former owners played them until they were finally ripped from the record player and thrown into the street. Filled with remorse, they were picked up later to be to played again and again, repeating the cycle. Such is the power of Lana.
Unfortunately, there isn't much on the web about Lana Cantrell. A sketchy bio on a website: Link here. But it just repeats things from the back of record covers; Touting again her going on tour in the 70's with the "Wizard of Oz", and avoiding the rumor that she is a lesbian (which only makes her more interesting). I did find out that Lana, now 63, is working in New York as an entertainment lawyer, and that she has done occasional cabaret gigs. Link here for the review. Come back to us our Lana. All of our divas are gone or are far to expensive to see.
If you haven't heard La Lana sing I offer these examples of her incredible booming voice. As Mike Gross of Billboard said on the back of one of her albums:
"The girl's a natural...She can take a big song and belt it to fare-thee-well... And no matter whether the song is dramatic or emotional or light and frivolous, it automatically becomes a Cantrell-convincer when she takes over."
Regardless, she's a breed of singer that was really only seen in the 60's. Compare her to the milk toast American Idol girl singers. Lana truly could take them to the carpet with one vocal cord tied behind her back.
for "Go". A prime Lana song. All over the emotional chart. This is the song that if I could I'd make a beautiful dress out of mother's pretty towels and lip-sync my heart out into any available broom handle.
Link for "Pleased With Myself". Turn this one up on your Ipod and walk down the street proudly as you slowly lose hearing in one of your ears.
Link for "She's Leaving Home". . No self respecting singer in the 60's had an album without at least one Beatles cover on it. Lana was no exception, but she picked one out of the ordinary.
Link for "House of the Rising Sun". She sings the shit out of this song.
Link for "What Now My Love" This song is pure Lana. All the emotions are turned all the way up. Just when you think they can't go up any higher, she turns them up a little more. "All these street are killing me" "I really have nothing!"
Per Mike Gross: "These are the sentiments of a girl who has set her sights high. And yet she is not just another young singer who is reaching for the moon. She's such a bright new star, that the moon is reaching for her."
Monday, November 27, 2006
There's not much to say about this, but that the Clark street address isn't to far from me. I should stop by to see if Mr. Benson Barrett is still making money writing paragraphs or if he's still living off of the profits from selling his writing paragraphs idea to unsuspecting women reading Woman's Household. I wish I had seen this ad before I spent all those "weary years" in college "learning to write".
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
In 1976, I read Dracula which is a book that is completely told through diary entries. It impressed me so much that at age 13 I decided it was time I marked the drama of my young life down in print. I've carried this torn up red book, that I bought at Stewart's 5 and 10 on 63rd street that summer, around with me everywhere I've lived. In fact, about ten years ago I did an auto-biographical piece using the entries and singing themes from the TV shows of the day.
A while back a friend said that he was thinking of posting his mother's diaries from the 1940s. I thought it was a great idea, so of course I stole it and decided to post my inner most thoughts from when I was in the 7th grade. Thanks Dave!
If you read these regularly you'll see that mostly this is a fascinating look at what a non-typical 13 year old with much time and few friends watched. And it's interesting to me to see what I was thinking back in the good old 1970s. I'll post comments when appropriate. So... if you are so inclined I give you my second blog. Here's the link: One Year Diary - Circa 1977
Sunday, November 19, 2006
I had no idea when I started my last blog post that it would get such varied comments and reactions. (Thanks Graeme for suggesting it to boingboing.net) But I'm not really surprised. Despite it's stark depictions of the world of crafting, there truly is something comforting in the thought that at least there was an outlet for these women to connect to each other. As I've gone through several more issues, the thing that stands out is how heartfelt are the women who wrote articles, letters, or sent in photos; also how painfully, painfully human everyone is.
This was not just another craft magazine, but perhaps one of the few places that a elderly woman who spends hours painstakingly making ventriloquist dummies can proudly show off her work;
and in the same issue giving a platform allowing other women to tell about feeling mad at a friend who feeds her cats dog food, or embarrassed when they are told in front a group that they are usually unattractive. Regardless, of your feelings for the people in this magazine, one thing is clear, this was one freakin' strange publication.
So as promised here are some other finds from the musty yellowed pages of Woman's Household.
The Dishtowel Cake.
This is a bit of craft work that completely baffles me.
It's a cake made out of dish towels.
I guess to be used as an inedible addition to your Christmas dinner table.
Two of the regular features: Embarrassing Moments and Pet Peeves.
(click on articles to make them bigger)
The most disturbing photos I've ever seen. If you had a giant squash why would you take a photo of it between your neighbor's child's legs? It's wrong for so many reasons.
And so that we can all experience a taste of crafting for ourselves and add a little smile to our hum-drum day, I've included Precious Pretty your own paper playmate.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
A SUBSCRIPTION FOR DESPAIR
After many years of using the Internet, I think we forget that there was a time when people didn't have many ways reaching out to people. What would we do without our bulletin boards and personal blogs to spread our random thoughts like so many seeds to the masses? One of the relics of ephemera in my collection shows how it was done forty years ago.
Some time ago at a yard sale I came across a pile of magazines called "Women's Household". At first glance they just looked like your run of the mill women's recipe and crafts magazine, but with each one I picked up I was stunned; I had never seen such despair wrapped up in so much yarn. The woman running the sale, gave them all to me for a dollar, saying "Take them all, they are just going in the garbage." I knew I'd do something with them someday, I guess this blog is it.
"Women's Household" was a monthly crafts publication which sold for 25 cents an issue. Their slogan was "Meet Other Friendly Woman Just Like You". The key phrase being 'just like you'; middle aged women isolated in small towns across America. Every month readers were encouraged to participate in the writing of the articles, such as My Pet Peeve, or Words I Live By, My Diet or just to write a poem about Christ or their cat. Subscribers were able to read fascinating articles about fellow crafters such as in the column "Her Creative Busy Hands"
In the section, 'Calling Young Homemakers', you'll meet young woman who express the frustration with their new marriage, like my husband works too much, I can't get along with his mother, or my husband lost his leg in a boiler accident.
Or you can visit with the furry companions of the readers in the column 'All About Pets',
Granted some of the features are very informative such as Glamourizing Discards, Dishcloth Pillow, or learn to make a Rattle that won't rattle.
My favorite section is Missing Persons Corner. Here people ask for help in finding a long, long lost friend or relative. Usually the description of the person is vague at best, i.e., liked to drive cars; five foot five, last seen in Pensacola Florida. The most amazing thing is that they even have a section for people found.
Equally as sad, is the column, "Write to a Shut-in". Here people write details of their or some friend's illnesses pleading with people to write them. For example: This very sweet lady is a shut-in. She has a limb off below the knee and needs encouragement; Or this man is quite poor and ill with no cure in sight, he would dearly love a card. My heart bleeds and I just have to turn the page to be cheered up by a photo of a woman who collects antique ceramic toothpick holders. I had no idea that there was such a thing, let alone that there were people that collected them. I hope that when Mrs. Stinnett passed on someone worthy got this grand collection.
Nestled among the articles and patterns for knitted cozies are deceptive ads for diets and instant face lifts in a jar.
So like the internet not much has changed.
Someday, when I'm in my dotage (in 2-3 years from now) I'll sit and scan in all these Women's Household magazines and create a website. In the meantime, quilting circle anyone?