Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tuesday is the Purgatory of the week

I hate Tuesdays. Period. They’ve always been my least favorite day, dating back to high school when they were early dismissal days.

But Alexander, if they were early dismissal days, why did you hate them?

Good question, voices-in-my-blog. Because early dismissal just meant that classes were done early, not that my life was miraculously free from work at 2 PM. It was the day I had to stay late for newspaper (which, don’t get me wrong, I loved, but it was a lot of work and while I loved the work, I was iffy on some of the people), or the day I had to deal with writing up a bio lab, or, worst case scenario, was the day I had nothing to do and had to deal with my mother for an extra hour and 40 minutes.

When I got to college, Tuesdays were no better. In fact, my two years of school, I had class from 10 AM to 10 PM every Tuesday. (And then had a much-needed Wednesday off.) This schedule actually led to one of my favorite incidents of Awkward Elevator Monologue. The elevators at school are paneled in metal, and my voice booms perfectly against said materials. I step into the elevator at 10:15 and say, in a deep, booming voice: “We join our hero as he exits the building, never to return again…until Thursdays.” The person in the elevator with me gave me a look and then back himself into a corner.

My third year of college, I was an RA and I was on duty every Tuesday. Now you’d think that Tuesday would be a good night to be on duty – it’s too early in the week for the antics to start. But I had bad luck, and something always happened when I was on duty – whether it was Tuesday, Friday, or even Sunday. The security guards loved me because I came to their rescue, and they always knew something exciting would happen. I had people slice their fingers while doing art projects, I had people collapse drunk in the hallway and vomit on themselves, I had people smoke pot in their rooms…with the door partially open, I had people try to sneak guests in…I had Halloween. (I even had one night where we lost a resident. But that may have been a Saturday. I can’t be sure all these years later.)

In the two years since then, Tuesdays have not been any day of dread, really – I’ve enjoyed some of my Tuesday classes, I’ve had some good Tuesday meetings, I had rehearsal for my recital on Tuesdays. But still Tuesday is very much a blah day.

The way I see it, Tuesday is the only day of the week with no personality of its own.

Monday is the first day after the weekend. It’s bittersweet in that sometimes it’s nice to get back to routine. Also, after the weekend, you know what to expect on Monday, it’s gonna be kinda crappy.
Wednesdays are the middle of the week. After lunch on Wednesday, the entire week’s momentum is like water flowing down an aqueduct; it may not be the quickest movement in the world, but it’s clearly moving downward toward its final goal.
Thursdays are the foreplay to the weekend. Thursday is the day when your weekend starts to come into focus and you really get excited for it.
Friday, well, we all know about Fridays. They usually are over before the begin – if only mentally.

And then there’s Tuesday, which just is. It is the purgatory of the week. It is the day that you just do what you do, and that’s it.

And even if it doesn’t involve 12 hours of class, or countless crazy incidents, I gotta say, I still get a bad case of the Tuesdays every 7 days.

But at least it only lasts a day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Goundhog Day

The movie Groundhog Day has come up in conversation today, mostly because of the sense of deja vu in the world -- Brett Favre and otherwise. I hadn't seen in probably 10 years, until it was on last winter when I was home for vacation. I remember it getting warm reception from critics, but not great -- and in doing a quick google search, Roger Ebert himself wrote a review of the movie 12 years after it was released saying that it withstood the test of time more than he thought it would and he liked it more a decade later...

Sure it's a movie about living in a never-ending loop. It's even a coming-of-age story, in a way. But what it really is is a movie about manic-depression.

This reveals itself in one of the first repetitions of the day when Phil (Bill Murray) speaks with one of the locals in a bowling alley.

Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?
Ralph: That about sums it up for me.

I had not actually noticed this deep subtext until after battling my own depression. The movie felt a lot more true and less funny watching it when I could empathize. I highly recommend it. Watch it, keeping in mind that one line.

It'll be the saddest comedy you'll ever love.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pure Imagination

After a wonderful day in Central Park today, my night time activities today were quite simple: ice pack on my knee, baseball, and then when that was over, flip through the channels until something worth watching came up.

Fortunately, the wait for something good was not long. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was on.

I remember as a kid this movie being on what seemed like all the time. (This and The Brave Little Toaster. Only one of those movies, I think, has actually stood the test of time. And I'll give you a hint: It's not the one whose sequel puts its main character on Mars.)

I don't know how often it was, in fact, on, but my memories as a child about being sick all have me lying in bed with my mother's small (6-inch, at best) black-and-white TV with the thin antenna and the switch to switch between UHF, VHF, and a third bandwidth I cannot remember. For some reason, every time I was sick, I was watching Willy Wonka on this TV, always on Channel 56 (WLVI).

(Incidentally, when we went to Israel for my brother's Bar-Mitzvah over Christmas/New Years break in 91/92, I remember going into our first hotel and turning on the TV and it was on, specifically the scene when Violet was blowing up into a giant blueberry.)

I loved this movie. I'm not sure it was the movie's story I liked as much as the music. (And maybe a little bit the idea of having free reign of a candy factory.) In my musical life, I've always tried to keep some of that child-like playfulness, both in how I play and the songs I choose to arrange. My favorite big band arrangement I've ever done was to "Rainbow Connection." When trying to figure out my senior recital repertoire, I felt compelled to put a little childhood in it. I opted for "Pure Imagination." (Which you can listen to over at My Website.)

Something about this song speaks to me. Lyrically, musically, and the fact that it takes place in the chocolate room. It embodies everything I wish to be true: the ability to close your eyes and be in whatever paradise you so desire.

Unfortunately, I'm not good at keeping my eyes closed. So I guess I'll just stick with the music and the feeling, rather than the delusions of fantasy. Though it's certainly nice to escape there once in a while...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Talking with Strangers

I've been vowing to write more. I'm having some major creative issues musically -- that is to say, I've been playing every day again for the first time in years, and feeling worse and worse about what's happening -- so I still need a creative outlet. Not to mention, I really like to write. Before I was a composer, I used to stay up until 4 in the morning writing prose. (And then one day, I started staying up until 4 in the morning writing music.)

ANYWAY...I've been writing some poetry, some prose, some reflections...nothing I've been quite ready to put here, but I did read some of my already-written poems -- some for inspiration, and to edit some (because let's be honest, some of 'em aren't good...)

Here's one of my favorites. (I wrote it for class in December of '08 and got a great reaction -- partially because it was unlike any of the other poems I'd written for class, and partially because I pulled off the fast-talking dialect of the italics aloud as I'd heard it in my head and people weren't used to me reading like that. I only hope they liked the poem...but anyway...without further ado...)


Talking with Strangers

He ain't afraid to mess up, I guess.
He's got that angular shit down,
but he sure ain't no Monk.

Influenced by Oscar? Bullshit!
He ain't got chops.
He slams his arms on the keys
Makin' love like an impotent virgin.

Don't as me;
I kinda dig him.


(I guess people were also kinda stunned by the phrase "making love like an impotent virgin." But with some of the other phrases I coined in that class, it was all building up to that...)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Thelonious Monk

I love Thelonious Monk. I love his compositions, I love his bands, I love his playing, and I love stories about him. (And thanks to my work on the Jazz Loft Project I have gotten a chance to hear some pretty amazing stories about him.) And most of all, I love playing his music. (One of the few recordings I like of me playing piano is playing "Friday the 13th" with Alexi's band live at Fat Cat.) Of the (only) two solos I took on my own senior recital, one of them was on "Bemsha Swing."

Thelonious Monk wasn't the first jazz pianist I became obsessed with -- it was Oscar Peterson. But I don't play like Oscar, and I never tried to play with Oscar. Monk, though, I started to emulate.

I was introduced to Monk by some of my NEC Prep teachers. (Oh, I'm sure I played "Blue Monk" before then, but just as another blues with a simple head -- which, while it may be that on the surface, the person who taught me it originally failed to show me the importance of playing it not like a regular blues, but like a Monk blues -- a distinction I preach, and try to practice, though my version of not practicing it is making other blues sound like Monk and not treating Monk like other blues...)

The first Monk tune I really got into was "Friday the 13th." Jeremy Udden, my ensemble coach at NEC Prep my sophomore year of high school, brought it in -- along with 4 or 5 other Monk charts -- and I was instantly addicted to the simple 8-measure progression and the rubs. Sure, I'd already owned multiple Monk albums and had started to play some of his other charts in school -- namely some of the blues charts, and "In Walked Bud," though I was trying to play it as I would a standard, not a Monk piece -- but I didn't start to understand Monk until "Friday the 13th."

That simple 8-bar tune taught me what I consider the essence(s) of Monk: Eccentricity, followed (very closely) by humor, deceptive simplicity (that is to say it sounds simple but isn't), and rhythm. (Of course melody and harmony are important, but I think Monk's harmony is part of his eccentricity, and his melody -- well, I can't begin to touch the amazingness that is "'Round Midnight." But for the complexity of "'Round Midnight," there's the simplicity of "Raise Four.")

I've never been a physically gifted pianist -- I have no chops to speak of, and it isn't for lack of trying. But listening to Thelonious Monk and becoming obsessed with "Friday the 13th," "Bemsha Swing," "Green Chimneys," "Raise Four," "In Walked Bud," "I Mean You," "Straight, No Chaser," "Well You Needn't," and others -- some well, and some, not so much -- taught me how to be a decent pianist without having to be a physically gifted one.

And I learned that it's okay to be eccentric.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

And for your reading pleasure: Monk's advice to Steve Lacey. Enjoy!