Monthly Archives: October 2016

Party Like It’s 1909

for Halloween…

Jude and I were recent guests of the gifted hosts, (and our very dear friends,) Diane and Howard Coffin. They held a dinner party for 14 at the historic Brandeis Mansion in Omaha, and on a warm Friday evening in October we arrived as directed – just at dusk and in “semi-formal, macabre” attire.

The 1904 Brandeis Mansion in Omaha's twilight. One of the mansion's owners, Mark Mazer,

The 1904 Brandeis Mansion in Omaha’s twilight. One of the mansion’s owners, Mark Maser, was on hand with a warm and conversational orientation to the home and its history.

Beethoven was playing softly as we walked through the yard’s gates, up the wide stone stairway and through the two sets of heavy double doors. Inside, we were greeted with hugs, Chambord Kir-Royales, and the spectacle of an exquisitely decorated and ornate wonder of marble, dark wood, porcelain, silver, crystal, and silk.

In keeping with the period of the incredible and opulent 1904 home, (and, of course, with the Halloween season,) guests were invited to secretly prepare and share “parlor entertainment.” After more Champagne, a delicious dinner, and festive punch cocktails, we wrote our names on slips of paper and dropped them into a decorative goblet. When it was time for the performances to begin, Howard and Diane made sure our glasses were full then arranged us comfortably in one of the mansion’s parlors.

A Tom Waits number also inspired the main piece that I performed, (a strange coincidence with what Bob had prepared.) From the opera Alice, co-written by Waits with his wife, Kathleen Brennan, I rewrote and freely adapted the lyrics of a song called Watch Her Disappear. I love Tom Waits, and it is challenging to try improving on his great writing. I was crazy about the seed of the idea, but really needed to change the context of the piece, and to re-set it in autumn for the occasion of the dinner party. I was pretty happy with what I came up with, and I used the beautiful music of the song Barramundi by This Mortal Coil as the background from It’ll End In Tears (1984 / 4AD).

From the opera Alice, with lyrics by Kathleen Brennan and Thomas Alan Waits, and directed by Robert Wilson. Here is my finished adaptation from…

One of the beautiful parlors.

One of the beautiful parlors.

Standing in lamplight before an intricately carved, giant fireplace mantle, Howard announced that he would draw our names to perform at random. In between our individual parlor entertainments, Howard kept things moving along by giving us a few of the spooky traditions and interesting histories of a variety of cultural festivals of the fall and harvest seasons. These traditions have evolved into what we celebrate now as Halloween.

Among the many performances: Some people told ghost stories – our friend Denise recounted an eerie one set in Maine, and our hostess Diane did a wonderfully mysterious reading from C.P. Gilman’s spirit-tinged The Yellow Wallpaper. Friends Bob, Claudia, Denise, and Diane enacted the witchy scene of the Weird Sisters from Act IV of Macbeth. Our friend Steve brought passion to E.A. Poe’s freaked-out narrator, Roderick Usher. Pal Bob conjured a tight and angry paranoia for the Tom Waits number, What’s He Building In There? Jude spoke calmly as the woman Death from the introduction of John O’Hara’s novel Appointment In Samarra. New friends Rod and John donned top hats for their fun soft-shoe version of Dem Bones. Friends Gary and Diane filled the parlor with violent tension while adapting Stephen King.

Together, Bob and I resurrected an old song, written by myself and Pete Acheson, called Rats. It was fun to dust off the lyrics and hear Bob’s guitar version of the song. And it was probably as scary as anything else during the night to hear me attempt singing. To introduce the song, we remarked that it was a tune neither publicly performed nor requested in some thirty years. Since we live in different cities, it was a tune that we had not rehearsed, either. It was a blast.

A Tom Waits number also inspired the main piece that I performed, (a strange coincidence with what Bob had prepared.) From the opera Alice, co-written by Waits with his wife, Kathleen Brennan, I rewrote and freely adapted the lyrics of a song called Watch Her Disappear. I love Tom Waits, and it is challenging to try improving on his great writing. I was crazy about the seed of the idea, but really needed to change the context of the piece, and to re-set it in autumn for the occasion of the dinner party. I was pretty happy with what I came up with, and I used the beautiful music of the song Barramundi by This Mortal Coil as the background from It’ll End In Tears (1984 / 4AD).

From the opera Alice, with lyrics by Kathleen Brennan and Thomas Alan Waits, and directed by Robert Wilson. Here is my finished adaptation from…

Watch Her Disappear

Last night I dreamed that I was dreaming of you

Dusk’s descending pluck and strum

And from a window across the lawn

I watched you undress

Wearing an amethyst sunset tightly woven around your hair

That rose in strangled ebony curls

Moving in a pale yellow bedroom light

The air was wet with sound

The faraway bark of a puzzled dog

The ground somewhere drinking a dark, slow, swirling leak

Your room is so soft and

Fading as it soaks autumn’s last golden heat

A light goes on and the door opens

An amber cat runs out

On the lemon stream of hall light and into the yard

A wooden apple scent is faintly breathing the air

The sunless air goes suddenly cool

I hear your champagne laugh

You wear two lavender orchids in your hair and

A string of saffron carnival lights comes on with the dusk

A tender swaying constellation

Circling the lake with a slowly dipping halo

The wind-washed waves nipping the sand

And I hear a frolicking calliope

And you dance into the shadow of a black poplar tree

And I watched you as you disappeared

I watched you as you disappeared

I watched you as you disappeared

I watched you

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

At home in the mansion - fancy pants and lacy cape.

At home in the mansion – fancy pants and lacy cape.

It was the best party! We are so grateful for our creative friends and the cool idea that our dear Coffins conceived of and …. executed! Happy Halloween…

Laughing With A Mouth Of Blood by St. Vincent from Actor (2009 4AD).

Tom Waits - Alice.

Tom Waits – Alice.

(The Tom Waits version can be found here: Watch Her Disappear from Alice [2002 Epitaph Records]).

30 October 2016

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Animal Rescue

My friend shared a secret about how she rights herself when the humans in her life irritate or disappoint; it’s this: she takes a walk in a near-by park. She explained:

I love to walk up to the shores of the streams and ponds to frogs squeaking and tossing themselves from the shore out into the water. I love the ones that don’t jump, that lay as still as they can with just their eyes peeking above the swamp. The bullfrogs were in full chorus the other night with their croaking. They sounded like cows. We also caught a great glimpse of the bison. We watched great blue heron fishing. Saw some nice gold finches among the tall grasses. The day was overcast and just edging the thermometer to 80. 

I’m charmed by the notion of the animals busying themselves with setting an outside stage that includes a soundtrack of squeaks and croaks and bellows which comes together in a splendid and soothing alfresco chorale. In my mind’s eye my friend crosses a threshold into the animal world, shakes off the people-residue and basks in the simple pleasure provided by the bullfrogs and bison and all other near-by creatures. It is as if they conspire to create the just-right surrounding for her.

Maybe they do. Perhaps they conspire.

I loved the animal story my friend shared. I replied with something like this:

I get your frogs. I like the birds. They take my mind off the monumental heap of work that does not inspire or invigorate me. 

I can identify one particular neighborhood crow that I call Boss. Every morning Boss flies to the tallest limbs of the neighborhood Doug Firs and begins to preach from his high pulpit.   

I like to think Boss and I have a relationship. I do know each morning I look forward to catching the glint of his obsidian feathers fliting purposely from tree to tree. He postures just enough that I notice him. His cranky and overly-loud voice gives me sufficient pause so I can now nod in recognition. If asked, I would tell you that Boss sends a daily corvid benediction just for me as I climb into the car for a long commute to the office.

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