Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I Think I Love You

I don’t know how to say this but I think I may be in love with Tim Gunn. Alas, it is doomed to be a distant unrequited sort of thing as I’m not exactly his type, and I’ve been married since I was a zygote, but still there it is. He’s been one of my primary reasons for watching Project Runway for ages, and I am an enthusiastic follower of his video blogs on Facebook. But now, with the release of his new book Gunn’s Golden Rules, my feelings have grown deeper and more ardent.

You see, in our classes Laurel and I always include a little segment that we call the Ten Commandments of Schmoozing, where we talk about the basics of navigating the world of networking in the arts. While there are ten very witty commandments (one day we’ll share them with you) they all boil down to this: “Be nice and use good manners”. Over the course of our careers, we’ve seen people behave in appalling ways when they are trying to make themselves known. We once saw an actress back a director into a corner while delivering a ten minute verbal resumé without once stopping to draw breath (she DID make herself known, but perhaps not in the way in which she’d hoped). We’re really disturbed by things like this because we feel that there are ways of networking and self-promotion that don’t make people run away from you in horror.

While Mr. Gunn gives fifteen rules for appropriate behavior in his new book, they are right in line with our Ten Commandments of Schmoozing. He doesn’t just give you the rules, but he backs them up with examples and names names! The tales of entitlement run amok in the book are enough to keep you up at night wondering what’s becoming of the world. The people he calls out in his book (Anna Wintour and several other prominent fashionistas are among them) are not people who simply don’t know any better. They are privileged souls with every reason to be grateful and gracious. Yet they seem to delight in being petulant and nasty. Anonymous makes a few appearances here too, doing things like refusing to give way to passengers exiting the subway before getting on (why IS that?), and causing scenes in various temples of retail. Not all of his examples are negative, there are enough random acts of etiquette in the book to give you hope for humanity.

It makes a redhead’s heart happy to know that there is someone else in the world who is taking up the cause of good manners. Instead of “can’t we all just get along?” perhaps our rallying cry should be “why don't we all just behave ourselves?” Maybe if we did, the getting along part would solve itself.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

You're The Top

VH1 has compiled a list of what they are calling the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. It seems they polled 200 artists including Ozzy Osbourne, Alicia Keys, Carrie Underwood, and members of U2 and the Police to come up with their list (you will note that neither of your Redheads was consulted for this poll). Of course, this is related to a multi-episode television special of the same name, so certainly their picks are designed to stir up conversation, controversy, and most of all, viewership.

This isn’t the first time they’ve come up such a list. The first was in 1998. It’s interesting to compare the two to see who moved up, who moved down, and who fell off. Between the time of the two lists Michael Jackson went from #40 to #3, and James Brown went from #46 to #9 bolstering the argument for death as a career boost. But then again, Ray Charles went from #12 to #43, and Marvin Gaye from #14 to #20 so maybe not. The ’98 list was called the 100 Greatest Artists of Rock & Roll yet contained names like Miles Davis (#39), John Coltrane (#77), Johnny Cash (#89), Gladys Knight & the Pips (#91), and The Four Tops (#93). None of these names with the exception of Johnny Cash are to be found on the latest list even though the name has been changed to the more general 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Why the name change? one wonders, when there are no jazz artists, and only one country artist represented. Several of the seminal voices of our time didn’t make the cut, including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Karen Carpenter, or Barbara Streisand.

All of which leads us to a question or two. Does a list like this really serve a purpose? Certainly it could be used to gauge the musical influences and tastes of the 200 artists polled, but beyond that, what do we discover? Does it indicate an ignorance of the musical past on the part of those polled? Other than being a lovely tidbit for one’s Wikipedia page, is there any real value to being named on a list like this? Does a list like this add to or take away from our collective musical educations? What does it really mean to be an influential artist? What are the criteria they used, and how do they differ from what ours would be?

Finally, and more importantly who are YOUR top musical influences, and why? Do share with us; we think your opinion is way more interesting than Ozzy’s.

By the way, Ozzy attended several Manhattan Transfer performances in the 1970s, and seemed to be a great fan. Obviously he forgot that when making his list.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sweet Tuesday Morning

A little musical trivia to impress your friends with...

The man who has written some of the most interesting and challenging songs of the past forty years, Leonard Cohen, turns 76 today. In 2008 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he is currently wrapping up a North American Tour. It's hard to pick a favorite amongst all his songs, but this one, Dance Me to the End of Love, is definitely up there!

Do you know what the number one Single on the US charts was on this day in 1968? It was Jeannie C. Riley's Harper Valley PTA. Tom T. Hall wrote the song, and it went to the top of Billboard's Pop AND Country charts. This wouldn't happen again until 1981 when Dolly Parton released 9 to 5.

Thanks to This Day In Music for keeping us in the know!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who Wears These Clothes

Today is the start of Fashion week in New York City. Instead of spinning around in my chair, and staring blankly out the window when I should be writing, I’m obsessively checking Tom & Lorenzo’s Twitter feed from the Project Runway finale show, and staring blankly at pretty pictures on style blogs when I should be writing. I have been obsessed with fashion since I begged for (and got) my first pair of high heeled sandals for my sixth grade graduation. They were white leather (a color I haven’t worn on my feet since) with spiked heels. My mother was appalled, I was ecstatic. All the money I earned through babysitting as a teenager went to clothes. My mother’s friend Donna was a talented seamstress and I once traded babysitting for her skills. I still remember the dress. It was pink with gray polka dots, a wide belt, full skirt, and contrasting collar. In fact, hanging in my closet at this very moment is more grown up version of that very dress. I didn’t realize that at the time I bought it, I only knew that putting the dress on in the fitting room made me ridiculously happy.

Clothes are another creative outlet for me. I love having the power to transform and express myself at will simply by what I put on or take off. I can use clothing as armor. I can face anything with high enough heels and a sharply tailored jacket or pencil skirt. The right outfit speaks volumes and I don’t have to open my mouth.

As a performer I have discovered that what gets worn on-stage has the power to enhance or detract. I have been distracted on many occasions from what should have been a brilliant performance by poor wardrobe choices. I once spent an entire evening worrying whether a divine performer of my acquaintance was going to (in the words of Project Runway contestant Peach) show us the good china, so ill fitting was her outfit. It was no way for either of us to spend an evening.

The most iconic performers have a strong visual component. Think of Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen, or Madonna and more than music comes to mind. Whether it’s Sinatra’s impeccable suit and fedora, Dolly’s sequins and sky high heels, Springsteen’s jeans and tees or Madonna’s ever shifting fashion persona each one has a defined sense of personal style. You may not agree with Dolly’s wardrobe choices but her outfits are immaculately tailored with never a sequin out of place and tell you exactly what she wants you to know about her. Even Springsteen’s basic jeans, and tee look is perfectly pulled off. Those aren’t just any jeans he’s thrown on, they fit like a dream, not too loose, or too long and that tee is made of great material, and his hair is perfectly groomed. It’s all meant to look like he just threw it all together, but in reality it takes a lot of effort to get it just right.

I was raised by a mother who insisted on good manners. The kind of manners that let other people know they are important. Dressing the part was a huge part of her training. Dressing for an event wasn’t about my being comfortable it was letting people know that I loved and respected them by putting the time and thought into what I wore. As much as I would love to go on-stage in sweat pants and bare feet because that’s what’s comfortable, I couldn’t do it. I want an audience to know I went to some effort because THEY were coming to see me. They’re leaving their house and paying to see me the least I can do it look presentable, and of course, sing really pretty.

My favorite part of clothing is the actual ritual of getting dressed. It’s more than just choosing an outfit and putting it on, it’s about the act of transitioning from one part of my life to another. This is especially true of getting ready to go out on-stage. That act of taking off the street make-up and clothes and putting on the performance wear helps me put aside all the stuff that happened outside the venue, the business end of getting the gig, the slow traffic that I had to crawl through to get there, whatever. The act of getting dressed helps me forget all that and focus on what I’m about to do, and the people I’m doing it for. It’s not just when I’m working that this happens though. Even just changing from my every day errand running outfit into an outfit to go out for dinner has the excitement of transitioning into another version of myself. Clothing let’s me become different people sometimes in the course of a single day, and really, what’s not to love about that?

So Happy Fashion Week! Gotta run now it’s almost time for Project Runway!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

L.A. Serenade

Me singing away in the studio

Can it really be Labor Day weekend already? It seems I start the summer with a list of all the wonderful things I’m going to accomplish and then wake up September 1st having checked off not a one. Fortunately, this summer my list contained a single item “RECORD” which I am thrilled to say has been accomplished. I spent an utterly idyllic week in L.A. working in the studio with Michele Brourman and Stephan Oberhoff, a dynamic duo if ever there was one. Michele co-produced, arranged, and played piano. Stephan co-produced and played acoustic guitar, electric guitar and percussion. Larry Tuttle played bass, and all was right with the world. An English actor friend of mine told me that Judy Dench once told him that she would not work on a set where there was no laughter, and I feel the same way about making music. Yes, it’s serious business and the work is often quite hard, but it should also be joyous. To be surrounded by talented people who do what that do with great relish AND a sense of humor was sheer heaven for me.

Now we’re moving into the post- production phase, getting all our ducks in a row so that our new baby can be released into the world. The waiting is tough, but well worth it. I’m proud of my work, and taking the time to figure out how to present it in its best light is all part of the fun.