Crazytown's token Canadian hits the ground blogging with a loquacious post addressing just who the hell he thinks he is and what his deal is exactly. Oh, and something about berries.
by Daniel Maté (Writer-Tunesmith-Performer)
"Wow. Crazytown. Just like I pictured it. Skyscrapers, and everythang." - with apologies to Stevie Wonder
Hi Crazytown readers! I'd like to thank Ryan Scott Oliver, this site's founder and a man I'm proud to call a colleague, for inviting me to join his expanding roster of artistic acolytes and cultural commentators. It's great to now have a weekly deadline, as well as a readily available basket to collect and distribute my abundant mind-berries (a.k.a. thoughts), both the low-hanging (i.e. superficial) and more out-of-reach, ladder-requiring (i.e. involved, considered, "deep") kinds.
Continuing the terrific berry metaphor just a bit -- because hey, why stop now -- I figure this here blog column will enable me to both freeze (i.e. conserve for later) and bake (i.e. actually combine and transform into something more interesting) parts of my berry harvest, instead of letting them hide and shrivel on the tree (i.e. in my head, never to be explored) or drop and spoil on the ground (i.e. impulsive Facebook posts, e.g.)
I find that last tendency to be a real threat to the creative-professional life. It's far too easy for me to burn creative calories throughout the day by scribbling distractedly in the Book of Face instead of conserving that energy and harnessing it in a conscious and deliberate way. And that creative incontinence does add up (or A.D.D. up!). I get a sinking, semi-fraudulent feeling when someone asks what I do for a living and I answer "writer", when I know that the only "writing" I've done for the past three weeks consists of copious status updates and clever comments on other people's links.
Anyway, I think we can all agree that berries can be delicious and are packed with helpful antioxidants. I hope you won't find mine too sour -- pleasantly tart is nice, though -- or worse, overripe.
I don't have anything in particular on my mind today, so I thought I'd set this column off with a brief rundown of what I'm up to these days, what I tend to give a shit about, and the sorts of topics you might be likely to find me blogging about for Mondays to come. Just so you know who you're dealing with.
1) Musical Theatre and Such.
I write songs and characters for the stage. I write music, I write lyrics, I even write book. (For those of you who aren't musical theatre heads, "book" tends to mean "everything but the songs": i.e. the story, the characters, the dialogue. In some ways it's the "theatre" part of "musical theatre". It ain't easy, and it's all-important.)
My most fully realized piece so far is called The Trouble With Doug, co-written with an amazing composer I hope you've heard of named Will Aronson. It's about a young man in the prime of life who abruptly becomes a slug. (Literally, a slug. A giant, talking slug. He turns into one.) And it's also, perhaps primarily, about his family (parents and older brother) and his fiancée and their attempts to come to grips with this out-of-nowhere tragedy. But don't let the word "tragedy" fool you: the show's a comedy. Or maybe it just wants you to think it's a comedy so that you let your guard down. You'll have to see it to find out.
Unfortunately you can't see it right now, 'cause it's not in production. (Though you can hear many of the songs at my website, or at Will's, and you can "like" Dougger's Facebook Page to stay on the trail of slug slime.)
Good news though: following a small-scale run at CAP 21 Theatre Company in 2009 and a very successful presentation at the 2010 NAMT Festival, and even though nothing's official, we have reason to be hopeful that the show will see the light of day in a full production sometime in the not-too-distant future. Victoria Clark, whom the musical-theatre fans among you will know as an acting-singing goddess and Tony winner, is also an insightful and highly skilled director (who knew? actually lots of people knew) as well as a wise and lovely person and we're extremely fortunate and excited to be working with her on moving the piece forward.
Then there's the songs I write alone as a composer-lyricist, some of which are standalone theatre songs and some of which will someday find their way into one show or another. I'm currently working with CAP 21 New Works Director (and my girlfriend of three-and-a-half years) Carey McCray on adapting a song cycle of mine into a more integrated musical. As a song cycle it was called The Longing and the Short of It, which is a clever if slightly precious title. The songs are all pretty much self-contained character or story songs about the ins and outs of love relationships: getting it, keeping it, holding onto it, striving to get it back. The piece won last year's ASCAP Foundation Cole Porter Award for "outstanding music and lyrics", which was encouraging, and now I'm trying to see if there's a way to give the songs an overall dramatic or theatrical context, rather than just presenting them in what's essentially a dressed-up concert form... For now you can hear or watch a number of the songs at my website.
2) All Things Songwriting
Connected but not identical to my interest in musical theatre writing is my interest in songwriting of all kinds. I intend to blog about genres and songs that I think have hidden theatrical merit, as well as share my thoughts on what makes songs work or not in all manner of styles.
On a related note, I'm currently starting work on what I hope will become my first book: a hip-hop appreciation guide for the uninitiated, intimidated or not-quite-convinced. (I have a ton to say about how hip-hop lyrics represent some of the most significant advances in English-language poetics in the last century, and what theatre lyricists can and should learn from them. For now, here's a video of me doing Hip Hop Karaoke, for which I am proud to be a two-time championship finalist.)
3) Political/Cultural Criticism
I consume and digest a lot of culture, and tend to want to respond to a lot of what I consume and digest. I think that the art we take in says a lot about who we are and where we're at in our evolution. So you might find me using this blog column to do film or theatre reviews, why you need to read Noam Chomsky, or mini-dissertations on how HBO's "The Wire" relates to explains everything about human history and society.
4) Keeping It in the Family
I'm currently completing work on my first audiobook as a narrator. This is very exciting to me. I always wanted to be that "In A World..." guy from the movie trailers.
But my next narration gig is what I'm most stoked about: I'm doing the audiobook of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction by Dr. Gabor Maté, a physician and author who also happens to be my Dad. I helped edit the book and contributed a short section of writing, so I'm thrilled to be lending my voice to the audio version. You may well find me plugging my father's work here, and not just 'cause I'm a proud son: I also think he has a lot of important insights about some problems our society finds most perplexing, from disease and stress to addiction to bullying. You can check out him out, riffing on all these topics, in this rather excellent Democracy Now! interview.
5) Being a Canuck
Um, I'm not from here. (And by "here" I mean America, not Crazytown.) I look forward to sharing my pleasantly off-kilter Canadian sensibility with you, perhaps blogging about the differences between the two countries, or maybe just giving you the latest Céline Dion and Bryan Adams gossip or NHL Hockey analysis.
By the way, the title of this post ("ON THE SUBJECT OF ME") comes from a droll little Kids In The Hall sketch. The Kids In The Hall are one of Canada's greatest comedic exports, and if you don't know them you should change that immediately. This sketch isn't their best -- it's sort of a poor man's "Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey" -- but something about it still makes me giggle a little. Maybe it's the mix of the mundane and the narcissistic. Reminds me of someone I know.
That's all I've got for now. Thanks for reading however much of this you read. Looking forward to inhabiting Crazytown with you all...
Peace and bloggasms,
TODAY'S BONUS PLAYLIST: Here, because this post clearly isn't long enough already, is a partially annotated list of the songs that played on my Pandora Radio Quickmix while I wrote this mini-missive.
Sarah Vaughan: You Hit The Spot
Richard Hell: Time
J.S. Bach: Concerto for 3 violins, strings, & continuo in D major
De La Soul: Eye Know (first hip hop group to sample Steely Dan, not to mention Hall & Oates)
Bernadette Peters: Some People (Only 88 bucks. What a cheapskate Papa is.)
Susan Werner: You Come Through (tepid vocal jazz, skipped this one)
Jamiroquai: Smoke And Mirrors
Ani DiFranco: 32 Flavors (Live in Rome, 2004) (before I wanted to be the next Stephen Sondheim, I wanted to be the next Ani Difranco)
Freddie Hubbard: Cold Turkey (awesome-possum instrumental funk jazz John Lennon cover)
Hank Jones: Arrival
Wendy Waldman: Mr. Boatman (I love this woman's voice and her writing)
Jacksoul: Think You Should Know (Toronto band! Go Canada)
The High Kings: Will Ye Go Lassie, Go? ("a mass-marketed contemporary Celtic quartet")
Amon Tobin: Nightlife
Outkast: B.O.B. (as dope as this song is, it's always bothered me that it's a party song called "Bombs Over Baghdad", using mass destruction and pre-emptive war as some kind of metaphor for clubtastic awesomeness. I mean, there really were bombs over Baghdad, and they killed a whole lot of innocent people.... anyway. Crazy flow, great beat, lots of fun. Die, you dirty Iraqis.)
Lisa Stansfield: All Around The World (aw yeah)
Metallica: Ride The Lightning (an excellent anti-death-penalty musical theatre song if there ever was one)
Survivor: Eye of the Tiger (Adrienne!!!!!)
Donald Fagen: Green Flower Street (from 1982's The Nightfly, a classic)
Billy Ocean: Caribbean Queen (what's going on with these 80's bangers!)
Atom Smash: Do Her Wrong (douchebag "Florida post-grunge hard rock" -- skipped it)
Avery Sharpe Trio: Oh No (Live)
Marco Polo: Relax (smooth Canadian r&b reworking of A Tribe Called Quest's "Electric Relaxation")
AC/DC: You Shook Me All Night Long
New Birth Brass Band: Crack House (best New Orleans brass funk song about a crack house ever)
Bill Withers: Use Me (his daughter went to the same Tisch grad program as me -- she's super talented and sweet)
Metallica: Cyanide (from their 2008 comeback album Death Magnetic, the first Metallica album not to suck outsized armadillo balls in nearly two decades)
Les Hommes: Touched By The Hand Of Tenorio
Sara Bareilles: Bottle It Up (Acoustic) (a little Starbucksy, but goes down smooth on a Sunday morning)
Ghulam Ali: Chupke Chupke (because you can never have too many Chupkes)
Bobby Byrd: Try It Again (James Brown's right-hand man goes solo in a funky way)