Monday, May 31, 2010

A Voice From The Age Of Criticism

"We very often hear complaints of the shallowness of the present age, and of the decay of profound science. But I do not think that those which rest upon a secure foundation, such as mathematics, physical science, etc., in the least deserve this reproach, but that they rather maintain their ancient fame, and in the latter case, indeed, far surpass it. The same would be the case with the other kinds of cognition, if their principles were but firmly established. In the absence of this security, indifference, doubt, and finally, severe criticism are rather signs of a profound habit of thought. Our age is the age of criticism, to which everything must be subjected. The sacredness of religion, and the authority of legislation, are by many regarded as grounds of exemption from the examination of this tribunal. But, if they on they are exempted, they become the subjects of just suspicion, and cannot lay claim to sincere respect, which reason accords only to that which has stood the test of a free and public examination."
Immanuel Kant

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Still True

Whoever wishes to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details. Knowledge is not intelligence. In searching for the truth be ready for the unexpected. Change alone is unchanging. The same road goes both up and down. The beginning of a circle is also its end. 
Heraklietos Of Ephesos

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Simple Definitions

"The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."
William Arthur Ward

Friday, May 28, 2010


"The primitive tribe honors the storyteller, but if he doesn't tell a great story, they kill him and eat him for dinner."
William Froug

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Behan's Lawyers

When Bob Dylan's third album The Times They Are A-Changin' was released in 1964, the Irish folk singer Dominic Behan was incensed to find that Dylan was credited as the composer of With God On Our Side, the tune of which Behan claimed to have written himself some time before as The Patriot Game. Actually the tune is a traditional, but that didn't stop Behan chiding Dylan publicly. During one of Dylan's early British tours, Behan called the American star in his hotel suite. Upon hearing Behan's uncompromising tirade, Dylan gave him the stereotypical American answer My lawyers can speak with your lawyers. That did not placate the angry Irishman. His alleged reply was: I've got two lawyers, and they're on the end of my wrists!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Be Plain!

"Works of imagination should be written in very plain language; the more purely imaginative they are the more necessary it is to be plain."
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"Only the hand that erases can write the true thing"
Meister Eckhart

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


"Youth is not entirely a time of life; it is a state of mind. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old by deserting their ideals. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair."
Douglas MacArthur

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Swedish Tale

At a little distance from Baal Mountain, in the  parish of Filkestad, in Willand's Harad, lies a hill  where, formerly, lived a giant named Stompe Pilt. It happened one day, that a Goatherd came that  way, driving his goats before him, up the hill.
" Who comes there ?" demanded the Giant, rushing  out of the hill, with a large flint stone in his fist, when he discovered the Goatherd.
" It is I, if you will know," responded the Herder, continuing his way up the hill with his flock.
" If you come up here I will squeeze you into fragments as I do this stone," shrieked the Giant, and crushed the stone between his fingers into fine sand.
" Then I will squeeze water out of you as I do out of this stone," replied the Herder, taking a new-made
cheese from his bag and squeezing it so that the whey ran between his fingers to the ground.
" Are you not afraid ? " asked the Giant.
" Not of you," replied the Herder.
" Then let us fight," continued Stompe Pilt.
" All right," responded the Goatherd, " but let us first taunt each other so that we will become right angry, for taunting will beget anger and anger will give us cause to fight."
" Very well, and I will begin," said the Giant.
" Go ahead, and I will follow you," said the Herder.
" You shall become a crooked nose hobgoblin," cried the Giant.
" You shall become a flying devil," retorted the Herder, and from his bow shot a sharp arrow into the body of the Giant.
" What is that ? " inquired the Giant, endeavoring to pull the arrow from his flesh.
" That is a taunt," replied the Herder.
" Why has it feathers ? " asked the Giant.
" In order that it may fly straight and rapidly," answered the Herder.
" Why does it stick so fast ? " asked the Giant.
" Because it has taken root in your body," was the answer.
" Have you more of such ? " inquired the Giant.
" There, you have another," said the Herder, and shot another arrow into the Giant's body.
"Aj! aj!" shrieked Stompe Pilt; "are you not angry enough to fight ? "
" No, I have not yet taunted you enough," replied the Herder, setting an arrow to his bowstring.
" Drive your goats where you will. I can't endure your taunting, much less your blows," shrieked Stompe Pilt, and sprang into the hill again.
Thus the Herder was saved by means of his bravery and ingenuity.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

How To Ruin A Friendship

"The surest way to turn a friend into an enemy is to give him an undeserved gift, send him money when he is in a desperate situation or save him from distress. His gratefulness will darken your relationship. Somehow he will feel inferior, and sooner or later take action to prove that you are the inferior one. In short, something meant as a blessing will upset the balance and ruin your friendship. Tragically you will never learn to let down a friend in need."
Joshua Fry Speed

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Standing Alone

"The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid."
Ayn Rand

Friday, May 21, 2010

Listen To The Master!

"Writing Pacific Overtures reinforced something I'd begun to learn and am learning still: of my three guiding principles - Less is More, Content Dictates Form, God is in the Details - the first is the hardest to put into practice. The struggle against discursiveness never ends and is too often unsuccessful, even for writers who know better. The famous Hemingway dictum that what you leave out is equally important to what you leave in is one I suspect that most writers wish they had never heard. Tolstoy, Melville, Proust and numerous all-inclusive others would probably disagree; for lyric writers concision is unavoidable,
if for no other reason than that the presence of music can not only supply what's unwritten but resonate beyond it. Still, it's a precept hard to follow, since it takes so much of the fun out of writing by putting the brakes on flamboyant cleverness, ostentatious imagery, decorative elaboration, overly insistent emphasis and rhythmically repetitive lists like this one. Novelists, essayists and journalists have the room to indulge themselves in such pleasures, but lyric writers do not: lyrics are a very concise form. If you think of a theater lyric as a short story, as I do, then every line has the weight of a paragraph. A good lyric, even a patter song, cannot afford unnecessary words, redundancies or needless flourishes. The price of such extravagance is diffusion - nothing blunts a strong emotion or a good punch line as effectively as too many words."
Stephen Sondheim

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Write Truly

"A writer's problem does not change. He himself changes, and the world he lives in changes, but his problem remains the same. It is always how to write truly, and having found what is true, to project it in such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who reads it."
Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Perennial Vocoder

In 1928 a machine was invented at Bell Labs to mimic the human voice. The hope was that the invention would better transmit speech underwater —say, across the Atlantic. Seventeen years later, Truman and Churchill would use the technology to discuss the terms of German surrender over a secure line. In between, the device would sing "Barnacle Bill" at a 1936 celebration at Harvard and capture the imagination of a young Ray Bradbury, who first encountered it at the 1939 New York World's Fair. In the late 60's the vocoder was discovered by record producers. The Moody Blues used it for their hit Night In White Satin". When the '80s and rap became the vogue, the vocoder would become the main machine of electro hip-hop. All in all, not a bad career for a machine.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chinese Wisdom

Twenty-five hundred years ago, a Chinese general named Sun Tzu wrote a collection of essays on military strategy known as The Art Of War, in which he offers this sage advice: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. While most of our life is hopefully not war, and the people we have to deal with are usually not enemies, it's certainly helpful to remember Sun Tzu's wisdom whenever we face a challenge.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Is It Worth It?

"I wonder whether what we are publishing now is worth cutting down trees to make paper for the stuff."
Richard Brautigan

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Law And Order

"It is foolishness for the party of law and order to imagine that these forces of public authority created to preserve order are always going to be content to preserve order that that party desires. Inevitably they will end by themselves defining and deciding on the order they are going to impose - which, naturally, will be that which suits them best."
José Ortega y Gasset

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Well Said

"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people"
Thomas Mann

Friday, May 14, 2010

Some Other Memorable Soprano Lines

"Life is putting the prozac to the test."

"I'm like fucking King Midas in reverse – every fucking thing I touch turns to shit."

"If she fell into a sewer pipe she'd come up with a gold watch in each hand."
"Must be great to be in the entertainment business." – "Yeah, it beats working for a living!"

"Goddamit, each of us is alone in that fucking universe."

"What kind of God does this shit?"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Same Attitude

"Those who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them."

Eric Hoffer

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Some Of My Favorite Quotes From "The Sopranos"

Tony's wife is outraged for a reason:
Carmela Soprano (Tony's wife): "You know, Tony, it's a multiple choice thing with you. 'Cause I can't tell if you're old-fashioned, you're paranoid, or just a fucking asshole."

Tony is fed up pouring his heart out at his analyst, Jennifer Melfi: 
Anthony 'Tony' Soprano Sr.: It's like taking a shit.
Dr. Jennifer Melfi: Ok. I actually like to think about it as a childbirth.
Anthony 'Tony' Soprano Sr.: Trust me. It's like taking a shit.

Jennifer to a friend, about men:
"Sure. You want someone who's sensitive to your needs, but still decisive enough for the occasional grope in the closet."

Tony's uncle Corrado about the long tradition of their mafia family:
"We go way back to when Moses wore short pants."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


There are various forms of stupidity. Since I studied the jurists, theologicans and philosophers who started and justified the European witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries, I know that the most dangerous stupidity is that of the so-called intellectuals. However, they are mostly smart enough to escape history's blame. The story of the intelligentsia supporting the Third Reich has never been written. We are made to believe that all Nazis were primitive people. Well, what about, for example, Martin Heidegger? The great philosopher took office as rector of Freiburg University in April 1933 specifically in order to carry out the Gleichschaltung. In a speech he told the student body that “the Führer and he alone is the present and future German reality and its law”. After the war, he went out of his way to minimize Nazi crimes, describing the Holocaust, in one notorious essay, as just another manifestation of modern technology, like mechanized agriculture. Yet his reputation remained untarnished. By the time of his 80th birthday, in 1969, Heidegger received his absolution by Hannah Arendt. In a birthday address, broadcast on West German radio, she said that Heidegger naïvely “succumbed to the temptation . . . to ‘intervene’ in the world of human affairs.” 

Monday, May 10, 2010

How To Shortcut Critics

"Brahms was curiously insecure about his work, and appeared to have nervous dread of seeming to appraise a given piece too highly. Hence this defense mechanism of beating his critics to the punch, as it were, disparaging his music before anyone else had a chance to do so."

Deems Taylor

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Early Insight

"A democracy is no more than an aristocracy of orators. The people are so readily moved by demagogues that control must be exercised by the government over speech and press."
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Keep It Short!

Writers tend to proudly show how hard they worked on a manuscript. They think the more pages they fill, the higher they rank. All wrong. A good writer never stops shortening his stories. It's the best way to get them read. Samuel Goldwyn never even touched a script that had more than 20 pages. And even then he used to say: I read part of it all the way through.

Friday, May 7, 2010

German Backstage Etiquette

Superstition may be almost extinguished in civilized countries, but certainly not in our theaters. In Germany we wish each other toi, toi, toi which is widely believed to be a substitute for the wellwisher's spitting over his or her friend's shoulder. Actually toi, toi, toi is a rudimentary form of a curse: Teufel, Teufel, Teufel, meaning three times devil. You must never ever answer a toi, toi, toi by a thank you, unless you want to invoke bad luck. The correct answer is Hals und Beinbruch or break neck and leg, a translation of the Yiddish hasloche un' broche.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tony Nominations 2010: Triumphant Fela!

American Idiot
Million Dollar Quartet
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play
Next Fall
Time Stands Still
Finian's Rainbow
La Cage aux Folles
A Little Night Music
Lend Me a Tenor
The Royal Family
A View From the Bridge
Everyday Rapture, Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott
Fela!, Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones
Memphis, Joe DiPietro
Million Dollar Quartet, Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux
The Addams Family, Music and Lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Enron, Music: Adam Cork, Lyrics: Lucy Prebble
Fences, Music: Branford Marsalis
Memphis, Music: David Bryan, Lyrics: Joe DiPietro and David Bryan
Jude Law, Hamlet
Alfred Molina, Red
Liev Schreiber, A View From the Bridge
Christopher Walken, A Behanding in Spokane
Denzel Washington, Fences
Viola Davis, Fences
Valerie Harper, Looped
Linda Lavin, Collected Stories
Laura Linney, Time Stands Still
Jan Maxwell, The Royal Family
Kelsey Grammer, La Cage aux Folles
Sean Hayes, Promises, Promises
Douglas Hodge, La Cage aux Folles
Chad Kimball, Memphis
Sahr Ngaujah, Fela!
Kate Baldwin, Finian's Rainbow
Sherie Rene Scott, Everyday Rapture
Montego Glover, Memphis
Christiane Noll, Ragtime
Catherine Zeta-Jones, A Little Night Music
David Alan Grier, Race
Stephen McKinley Henderson, Fences
Jon Michael Hill, Superior Donuts
Stephen Kunken, Enron
Eddie Redmayne, Red
Maria Dizzia, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play
Rosemary Harris, The Royal Family
Jessica Hecht, A View From the Bridge
Scarlett Johansson, A View From the Bridge
Jan Maxwell, Lend Me a Tenor
Kevin Chamberlin, The Addams Family
Robin De Jesus, La Cage aux Folles
Christopher Fitzgerald, Finian's Rainbow
Levi Kreis, Million Dollar Quartet
Bobby Steggert, Ragtime
Barbara Cook, Sondheim on Sondheim
Katie Finneran, Promises, Promises
Angela Lansbury, A Little Night Music
Karine Plantadit, Come Fly Away
Lilias White, Fela!
Michael Grandage, Red
Sheryl Kaller, Next Fall
Kenny Leon, Fences
Gregory Mosher, A View From the Bridge
Christopher Ashley, Memphis
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Ragtime
Terry Johnson, La Cage aux Folles
Bill T. Jones, Fela!
Rob Ashford, Promises, Promises
Bill T. Jones, Fela!
Lynne Page, La Cage aux Folles
Twyla Tharp, Come Fly Away
Jason Carr, La Cage aux Folles
Aaron Johnson, Fela!
Jonathan Tunick, Promises, Promises
Daryl Waters & David Bryan, Memphis
John Lee Beatty, The Royal Family
Alexander Dodge, Present Laughter
Santo Loquasto, Fences
Christopher Oram, Red
Marina Draghici, Fela!
Christine Jones, American Idiot
Derek McLane, Ragtime
Tim Shortall, La Cage aux Folles
Martin Pakledinaz, Lend Me a Tenor
Constanza Romero, Fences
David Zinn, In the Next Room, or the vibrator play
Catherine Zuber, The Royal Family
Marina Draghici, Fela!
Santo Loquasto, Ragtime
Paul Tazewell, Memphis
Matthew Wright, La Cage aux Folles
Neil Austin, Hamlet
Neil Austin, Red
Mark Henderson, Enron
Brian MacDevitt, Fences
Kevin Adams, American Idiot
Donald Holder, Ragtime
Nick Richings, La Cage aux Folles
Robert Wierzel, Fela!
Acme Sound Partners, Fences
Adam Cork, Enron
Adam Cork, Red
Scott Lehrer, A View From the Bridge
Jonathan Deans, La Cage aux Folles
Robert Kaplowitz, Fela!
Dan Moses Schreier and Gareth Owen, A Little Night Music
Dan Moses Schreier, Sondheim on Sondheim
Alan Ayckbourn
Marian Seldes
Eugene O’Neill Theater Center
David Hyde Pierce
Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York
B.H. Barry
Tom Viola

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Good Investment

The American economy was in recession, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was yo-yo-ing in the 600s when Marjorie and Malcolm Gray found a new investment to offset a battering in the stock market. It was the spring of 1960, and after dropping by a neighbor’s home on Long Island to hear a couple of hopeful musicians play songs from their new Off Broadway musical, “The Fantasticks,” the Grays bought a stake in the show for $330. The other day, 50 years later, Ms. Gray. now a widow, received her latest dividend from the musical, a $200 check in return for that stake. She has earned about $80,000 so far on the original $330 investment, or an average of $1,600 a year since 1960. And she will continue to receive money until 2020 because of the investment terms for the original production, which ran a record-setting 42 years at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in Greenwich Village. Investors or their heirs will make money from all “Fantasticks” shows — including a current revival Off Broadway and a forthcoming run in London — for 18 years following the final performance of the original show, which took place in 2002. The 18-year period is not unusual (though 10 years is more typical today). What has turned “The Fantasticks” into an extraordinary legacy for the investors, many of whom are now in their 80s and 90s, was the longevity of the 1960 production, the 50th anniversary of which will be celebrated by the surviving investors on Monday.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

An Opera I'd Love To Write

At the end of the 18th century Samuel Tayler Coleridge wrote a dramatic poem titled The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. A greybearded old sailor tells of how, many years ago, he had gone on an initially exhilarating voyage into the unexplored southern ocean. The greatest marvel they found there was a beautiful white albatross which followed their ship. In a reckless moment the mariner shot the albatross. From then on, a terrible curse fell over the voyage. The ship is becalmed, surrounded by terrifying sea-monsters. A spectral vision of another ship approaches, with Death on board. The mariner sees his shipmates all die, one by one, of hunger and thirst. When all seems lost, the mariner is looking down at a mass of sea-snakes crawling around the ship. Moved by seeing the only living beings apart from himself, he croaks out a blessing on them. The ship returns to ghostly life as a mysterious wind springs up, carrying it back within sight of home; at which point it sinks, leaving the mariner to be carried to shore, half dead, but repentant of his crime. Today the story may well be read as a metaphor on the reckless destruction of nature, and the eventual self-revelation of the perpetrator.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Asterisk Vintage

Last week Robert Parker published his report on the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux, endorsing what those privileged to have experienced first-hand last month no doubt already concluded. In fact, the vintage is so good that in some cases, the quality level is so high that Parker has needed to go beyond 100 points. Certain chateaux who have produced wines with “the finest potential of all the offerings I had ever tasted from that estate in nearly 32 years of barrel tasting samples in Bordeaux”  are rated by the addition of an asterisk on top of their 100 points.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Advice To Playwrights

"Writers have tremendous courage. You face the blank page or, more aptly these days, the blank screen, and attempt to fill its bottomless maw. Feed me, it screams, as the cursor blinks with accusations and you go about filling it up with your words and musical notations. And when you are done, there is a song or a story that didn't exist before you set out to create it. This task is so daunting that many talented people have forsaken it for easier undertakings, like astrophysics or law. Yet writers have been commodified by producers, marginalized by directors, ignored by audiences, and are sometimes willing, if unwitting, co-conspirators in their own diminishment.  What good is it to do rewrites that you don't believe in only to get the show on, when the show that gets on won't be truly yours? If you don't stand up and speak for your play during the production process... who will? Honor your creation by defending it, believing in it. Demand the respect owed to those who have the courage to face the blank page."
Ralph Sevush