A trip to the magnificent Louvre museum with Mark Twain. Well actually Mark Twain himself never got there, but he wrote about not getting there in “The Innocents Abroad”, and that satirical anecdote about what happens to unwary, blustery Americans tourists overseas when paired with guides with lucrative side lines (and I know from experience this still happens to tourists in many places overseas) made its way into my musical beTwixt, beTween & beTWAIN. I’ll share that little musical bon bon of Mark Twain’s bon mots, along with pictures of the Louvre as it stands now.
And I do mean to focus on the Louvre, the French royal palace of old, turned into a museum, and a magnificent work of art in its own right. A closer look at art work exhibited in the Louvre itself, with one or two exceptions, will be reserved for another time, I think. For today the Louvre itself is the star, this grand sprawling museum/palace; accompanied by a musical rendition of Mark Twain’s ill fated attempt to get there by carriage with a group of American tourists he affectionally calls Pilgrims, who have been taking the first cross-Atlantic pleasure cruise in history in 1867.
The carriage – an open barouche – was ready. Ferguson mounted beside the driver, and we whirled away.
We’re riding by barouche to the Louvre
Americans en route to the Louvre
The point is surely moot that the Louvre
The Pilgrims in Pa-ree
Dan happened to mention that he thought of buying three or four silk dress patterns for presents.
After twenty minutes the carriage stopped.
Zis is ze finest silk magasin in Paris – ze most celebrate.
We told you to take us to the palace of the Louvre
I suppose ze gentlemen say he wish to buy some silk.
You are not required to ‘suppose’ things for the party, Ferguson. We will do such ‘supposing’ as is really necessary to be done. Drive on.
Always a crowd around the Mona Lisa. Follow my journey to her in “Mona Lisa & Me”
Listen to this. It’s rather creepy, isn’t it, not just because of the unsettling nature of the text, but because of, well, I’ll explain later, just listen now:
I kept quite still and said nothing.
For a whole hour I did not move a muscle,
and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down.
He was still sitting up in the bed, listening; –
just as I have done,
night after night,
hearkening to the death watches in the wall.
It’s by Edgar Allan Poe, a selection from “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“, my musical adaptation of the Poe short story about the murderous roommate, which I am turning into a short film, currently in preproduction. Hence the recording of my vocals, including the spoken sections. Even if my vocals will also be recorded on set, or later again in post, it is necessary to record all vocals, sung and spoken, as part of the film’s pre-production.
In my adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart, I adhere very faithfully to the original Poe text throughout, with only occasional minor adjustments. The words here are unadulterated Poe, and one of the few moments of pure speech in the piece. Usually I am singing, or alternating speaking with singing, and the three cellos are playing their alluring, alarming accompaniment…
But for this moment, a moment of stillness and dread, right before the murder, the deadly calm before the storm, so to speak, I decided when adapting “The Tell-Tale Heart”, this moment, this paragraph, would be the longest, most self-contained section of pure speech, nothing sung, no cellos, right before launching into the musical centerpiece called “The Groan of Mortal Terror”:
Ed and I had just seen Julian Schnabel’s movie about Vincent Van Gogh, “At Eternity’s Gate”, and were exiting one of the more tucked away screening rooms at the Landmark 57 multiplex, which required walking down a long, narrow, and lightning bolt cornered exit hall.
And, perhaps inspired by the idiosyncratic cinematography of the movie, constantly challenging the viewer to appreciate light and perspectives and movement in unfamiliar ways…
… I felt compelled to hang back and take some pictures of the hallway, with the red exit sign, the lights creating shapes and shades on the grey walls, the flares and blurs of light that erupted in my camera phone even more than before my own eyes…
I went down the length of one leg of the exit hall, where it takes a lighting bolt shaped corner…
But then first took a look back at a spare, red free hallway… like a corridor of a sci-fi space ship…
A woman walked down the corridor as I was taking the picture. She joked I will have to pay her for the photo. I sheepishly explained I felt compelled by the movie to capture the unique lights and perspectives of this exit way. We talked about the movie, its depiction of the artist and artistic process. We talked about how after a hundred years of people accepting the story that Van Gogh committed suicide, the world is finally understanding that, at a time when his mental health had improved and his fortunes were looking up, he was most likely shot by a youth (under still uncertain circumstances), which this expressionistic movie and the recent “Loving Vincent” (an uneasy if fascinating melange of crime procedural and animated oil paintings) dramatize.
Meanwhile, Ed, already out in the lobby, was wondering what had become of me…
“Was ist passiert?” he texted me.
“What happened?”, in German.
Using German was a way to couch his annoyance in bemused terms.
We start with a famous thought. We end with a famous kiss.
Rodin’s Thinker greats you in the courtyard of the Rodin House in Paris. And so he will be the introduction to this post of some of Rodin’s more sensual statuary, as found in the Rodin House, continuing my informal series of Sensual Statues in Paris.
This post will conclude with Rodin’s Kiss, getting particularly close and intimate with that masterwork of sensuality.
But first let’s enter the house and join the other tourists wandering the halls and taking in the statuary.
And as we did before, we will choose music from ye olde sensual classics cd:
Sensual Classic #5: Ravel – Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte
Here a kiss, there a kiss. But for THE KISS itself, you must scroll through to the end…
The other weekend artist Jon Bunge opened his studio up to the public as part of the Gowanus Open Studios 2018.
I’ve known Jon for many years. His work was always abstract. The black and white pictures behind him are from his early work which also includes colored paintings and collages made with colored papers.
Nowadays he has transitioned exclusively to sculptures that he makes with wood sticks from a variety of trees. All the branches he finds on the ground in nature walks or friend’s gardens after the trees have already naturally shed them.
A great number of Jon’s creations were hanging from the ceiling or protruding from the wall, with the studio lights casting dramatic shadows. For Jon the sculpture’s shadows are nearly as much a part of the complete artistic experience as the sculptures themselves.
Jon needed to leave his studio for a reception at another exhibit of his work. So I minded the store, so to speak, for him in his absence.
Which allowed me to explore his sculptures a bit with my phone camera.
First I tried to capture the overall effect of the assemblage of his pieces and the effect of all their shadows:
How a genre and boundary bursting Swedish movie brought back to mind a certain LGBTQ friendly First Grade Opera Tune
I just saw the movie “Border”, Sweden’s entry for this year’s Foreign Film Oscar, and let me say, right off the bat, I recommend this strange, affecting, disturbing, adult, startlingly real seeming fantasy (a make-up nomination and Oscar win is even more likely than for foreign film). But this isn’t a review, for that I suggest you read this one. However certain major spoilers for the movie may follow, although I’ll reveal little of the plot.
“Border” moved me to share a particular first grade opera song, one that was written back in 2003, whose kicky hook entered my thoughts unbidden during one of the films more romantic moments.
This song is called “Troll Affection”.
It’s been fifteen years, and the plot of that particular first grade opera is rather hazy. I remember there was a wizard, a troll, and two other fantastical characters – a fairy and a giant? Anyway, part of the plot revolved around the wizard having a thing for trolls, which he expressed in the rollicking song “Troll Affection”.
Frankly, the words and tune of most of the song are a bit hap-hazard, as some but not most songs written by first graders can turn out to be (yes, they create the words and tunes themselves, I’m merely the scribe and mentor). However it does have a kicky hook when the wizard repeatedly sings “Troll Affection”, followed by four foot stomps the first graders insisted be added to the score.
I just recorded this “Troll Affection” hook quickly with my phone to give you a taste:
Ed and I were watching the marvelous, heart-grabbing “First Man” in the next to uppermost row in the huge Upper West Side Imax theater, when we reached the point in the narrative where Neil Armstrong is commanding the Gemini mission involving one space ship docking unto another in outer space for the first time in history, a crucial step toward making a future moon landing possible.
And Justin Hurwitz’s score suddenly took on a symphonically murmuring quality that reminded me very distinctly of something very musically familiar…
A slow build up with tremolos, with rising snippets of phrases foreshadowing a more elaborate, elegant melody to come.
I thought, are we heading where we appear to be heading?
And then, when the docking between the two rocket crafts is successfully accomplished, and a gently celebratory harp rhythm in three quarter time is struck…
I was sure. And smiled in eager anticipation.
The main melodic theme from “First Man”, so far in the movie heard mainly in 4/4 time and in wistful strains, is now joyously played as a waltz. But it was hearing the chirping of two flutes in harmonic thirds, while the rocket ships are shown turning in graceful circles, that had me guffaw appreciatively, and break movie going etiquette by whispering in Ed’s ear: “They are riffing on The Blue Danube!”
Johann Strauss’ “The Blue Danube Waltz” is nowadays inextricably associated with Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 – A Space Odyssey”. The only classical music piece even more reframed from its original meaning as a musical paean to space travel (also thanks to Kubrick’s “2001”) is “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, by that other Strauss, Richard.
Don’t believe me that the “Docking Waltz” from “First Man” pays clever homage to “2001’s” use of “The Blue Danube Waltz”, albeit with more liberal use of the theremin? Go ahead and listen to it above, and then compare it with the two clips from “2001 – A Space Odyssey”. “2001” even includes two space ships in a docking maneuver also filmed as a slow-turning waltz.
Have I decided to add cartoonist to my jack-of-the-arts-box?
No. I am quite aware that my drawing skills are more on the feeble side.
These sketches are for practical reasons, which however are leading to an artistic pursuit.
Several weeks a go I posted a tease regarding a revival of my Edgar Allan Poe adaptation “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre“. Today I am sharing some sketches that are just a few of the over 160 drawings I have made related to this return to Poe’s story of the madman, the pale blue eye, and the hideous heart.
And why did I go through the trouble of sketching over 160 drawings when, let me reiterate this again, I am not planning a cartoon or graphic novel of The Tell-Tale Heart?
No, these drawings are actually not meant for public consumption (although I guess I just made some of them available for public consumption with this blog post). They are mainly a means to an end. Ah, but what end?
Can you guess….?
Tell tale glimpses into a specifically horrific future for “The Tell-Tale Heart – a musicabre”…
but also some less comforting, chiseled objectification
Continuing my fascination with sensual statuary in Paris, the greatest concentration of such aesthetically, artistically, and, let’s admit it, amorously pleasing statues in Paris, and thus likely the world, might be found in the Musée D’Orsay. Originally built as a train station for the World’s Fair that birthed the Eiffel Tower, it was turned soon after into a museum of modern art, now showcasing mostly late 19th and early 20th century works.
Once again we find statues with varying degrees of overt and implied sensuality, with nudity that runs the gamut from formal to tender, from subtle to sensational, from exquisite to exploitative (sometimes all at once).
Above, a depiction of Sappho, passively asleep, girly and demure, her breast nearly exposed. Not my idea of Sappho, although I guess she napped sitting on a chair too on occasion…
Above and below, marble centerfolds. The passive (unconscious?) female body displayed for ravishing.
For gender objectification parity here the male body in the same passive surrender to the (male?) gaze:
There is surely something more to be discussed than sleep habits when sculptures of bodies in the most obviously erotically alluring and passive poses also render those figures with their eyes closed.
But I guess having these figures look at the viewer with eyes open might have been a step too far for 19th century society. Whereas the overt physical display coupled with their vulnerability and lack of agency may make these sculptures less innocent in the 21st century than they seemed in the 20th.
UPDATE: Lone Star Lyric has postponed their production of “Witches” to June, 2019
However, my Nov 3 talk at the Round Top Theater Forum will include numerous performed excerpts -songs and scenes – from the musical.
Looking for something fun and fierce and feminine to do this Halloween? In Houston?
My musical “Witches” is receiving its Texas debut at the Lone Star Lyric, starring Kelli Estes and Sonja Bruzauskas as the witches Margaret and Leona getting ready for their ninth and final life, and looking back at 8 lives lived as Eve, Lilith, Lady Macbeth, Snow White’s Stepqueen, Hansel and Gretel’s …uh…host, with a heavy emphasis on what they went through as modern day women of the 20th and 21st century.
“Witches” has been performed dozens of times all over Germany, three different productions in Berlin alone as well as in Austria and Finland (in Finnish!). The English translation has been produced twice in New York City. And next is Houston.
Performances will be the last weekend of October. I’ll be there, as well as the following weekend at the Roundtop Theater Forum, giving a little talk while Kelli and Sonja perform songs from “Witches”.
So if you’re in Houston this Halloween weekend, do join us for some Black Sabbath serenading.
Currently at the Rubin Museum in New York City, there is an exhibit curated by the public’s hopes and fears.
One is invited to fill out a red tabbed card, completing the phrase “I’m anxious about…” and hang it on a peg on a red wall overfilling with other responses. Conversely there are blue tabbed cards with the phrase “I’m hopeful because…” to be answered and hung on the blue wall to the left of the red one.
Life is fucked up
I passed all my classes
I filled out two cards for the red side, and one for the blue side. Perhaps you can detect my contributions.
I have to pee
The November election
My confidence carries me each day
Apropos Song #1 – Shout (Tears for Fears)
It’s a lovely day in NYC
Amazon messed up my order
Black Lives Matter
Someone dear to me won’t see me, but…
I find myself being good enough more often than not
I am scared of the unknown future
I live to see another day
Time is limited
I am learning how to live for myself
of the impact of the present negativity on the lives of children
God is everywhere! So smile, everything will be alright
I don’t know if statistically there are more nude statues there than in other European cultural capitals, or if the nude statues of Paris are particularly more sensual than elsewhere, or if it is just the particular perspective of a 51 year old queer man that drew these nude sensual statues to his (OK, my) camera’s attention, and maybe it says less about Paris and more about my own sensibilities, or predilections, that I not only directed my camera towards these nude statues but maybe also teased out more sensuality from them in the way I photographed them than the sculptors intended.
Or maybe it’s everything above, the nude sculptures of Paris, their sculptors’ overt or hidden intentions, my prurient perspective and, occasionally, my camera’s angles too.
Sensual Classic #1 – Beethoven: Romance, Opus 50
(You know those compilations of classical music sold like greatest hits albums? Especially the ones called “Sensual Classics”, like that one cd with a picture of two soulfully shirtless men Ed purchased at a Gay bookstore in the ’90s? I might as well accompany my Sensual Sculpture post(s) with music from that cd, pre-approved by the Sensual Classics series, selecting the choice classical tracks to make out to.)
Sometimes a nude is just a nude. Like these two nudes on the Arc de Triomphe.
There’s nudity in Napoleon’s vainglorious memorial, but not much sensuality.
But the nudes holding up the street lamps around the Paris opera house are undeniably posed to be sensually alluring. Their closed eyed passivity makes them seem to me akin to three dimensional pin-ups. Less works of art than obvious sops to an objectifying male gaze.
But still alluringly sensual, even if socio-politically problematic. Luckily better art more deserving of our sensual fascinations lies ahead.
The breasts of the golden angel on top of the Fontaine du Chatelet may be as exposed as the street lamp maidens, but the figure’s position and gesture gives her more agency. The sensuality resides less with the nudity than in how the sunlight plays with the gold.
And because I am an equal opportunity (or all gender) ogler, let’s follow up the golden disrobed female angel with the golden naked male angel on top of the column at the Place de la Bastille, which is where another, more recently built opera house also happens to stand.
Most of the nudes displayed statuesquely in the streets of Paris are at least a hundred years old and classically trained, so to speak. But there are exceptions in a more modern, 20th century vein, like this large languorous figure near Arts and Metiers.
There’s nothing overtly sexual about these male nudes hard at work on one of the Seine bridges, but it can’t be denied how their virile musculature is on dynamic display. Watching half-dressed men at hard physical labor is a whole class of soft-core erotica all by itself, after all.
There is lots of sensual nudity, sculptural and painterly, at display inside the Louvre museum (which I will get to in another post, surely). The outside facade however is mostly rather stately and prim.
Still, if you are into naked hunky men tied up in bonds, those can be found near certain windows.
But for a more delicate sensuality, these particular figures caught my eye, holding hands, breasts barely draped, looking off into the far distance wistfully. There seemed to be a sad, sweet, sensual story there.
Between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde is the Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden), where you will find a surfeit of nude statues of all kinds, most posed with sensual flair, even if their subject matter may have little to do with sexuality.
(Parenthetically, I love how birds will insert themselves into a statues’ presentation. A droll visual disruption.)