Shakespeare, Outrage and Ignorance

OK…we gotta talk about this whole Julius Caesar thing people.

First off if you don’t know the play you should at least know the general history it’s based on…if you don’t please Google it right now.  I’ll wait.  OK…just in case that whole Google thing is beyond you let me quote Wiki here for a second:

“The assassination of Julius Caesar was the result of a conspiracy by many Roman senators. Led by Gaius Cassius Longinus, Decimus Junius Brutus, and Marcus Junius Brutus, they stabbed Julius Caesar to death in a location adjacent to the Theatre of Pompey on the Ides of March (March 15), 44 BC. Caesar was the dictator of the Roman Republic at the time, having recently been declared dictator perpetuo by the Senate. This declaration made several senators fear that Caesar wanted to overthrow the Senate in favor of tyranny. The conspirators were unable to restore the Roman Republic. The ramifications of the assassination led to the Liberators’ civil war and, ultimately, to the Principate period of the Roman Empire.” (emphasis by me)

Just a little more clarification from Wiki:

“The Principate is the name sometimes given to the first period of the Roman Empire from the beginning of the reign of Augustus in about 30 BC to the Crisis of the Third Century in 284 AD, after which it evolved into the so-called Dominate.

The Principate is characterized by the reign of a single emperor (princeps) and an effort on the part of the early emperors, at least, to preserve the illusion of the formal continuance, in some aspects, of the Roman Republic.” (emphasis by me)

So Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is based on those events.  Caesar was declared “dictator perpetuo” or perpetual dictator by the Senate, but some folks in the Senate were VERY concerned about this declaration.  They had a fear, a deeply held and sincere fear, that Caesar was going to descend into full on tyranny and their Republic, this form of government that was relatively new and they were truly passionate about, was in danger.  So instead of using their governmental process to avoid this they make the tragic and horrible decision to assassinate Caesar.  Why do they do this?  Because they are blinded by their fear and desire to do what they think is right at all costs.

Now we get to the important part of the story…does it work?  Do they, in truth, save their Republic with this act of violence and murder?

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

THEY FAIL…THEY FAIL HORRIBLY.

Many of them are crippled by guilt afterwards and THEY ALL DIE.

Then…the damn Republic fails and the Roman EMPIRE is ruled for a very long time by EMPERORS.  No Republic anymore…at least not in any real way.

Sooooo, what do YOU think moral to the story is?

Is it… “HEY if you don’t like the leader of your country just go kill the dude because that ALWAYS works out well”?

Or maybe is the point of the play that while tyranny is bad and it’s very good to guard against it you cannot successfully save a democracy (Republic) by circumventing it and committing acts of violence in its name?

Now some of you might say, “Well hey Miss Bliss what do you think about this as a theatre choice, clearly basing the character of Caesar on a current world leader?”

I’ll tell you that it’s been done a zillion times before and if we don’t lose our minds it will be done a zillion times more.  There has never been a production of Julius Caesar where comparisons were NOT made with various world leaders.  That’s why you don’t see a lot of productions of this play in totalitarian countries.  They can’t stand it.  It makes them nervous.  Not just the leaders but the people around the leaders…remember, everyone dies in this story and the government fails.

But having said that, I don’t think it’s a good theatrical choice to make Caesar and any of the other characters in the play too clearly modeled on current politicians/leaders.  Why?  Because of EXACTLY what is happening right now with this show.  It gives too many people an easy way to miss the point of the damn play.  It’s a brilliant play with a very important message and when theatre and art do their jobs right it sneaks under your ideology and your preconceived notions and MAKES YOU THINK NEW THOUGHTS!!!

I understand the motive behind doing it, I just don’t think it nets us what it should.  Now maybe I’m wrong and maybe tons and tons of people will think to themselves “I should go read that play and see what it’s really about” and the world will suddenly be a more educated place…but color me skeptical.

I do not blame the theatre company or their choices for having caused this uproar because they did exactly what theatre companies have done with this play since it was written.

I blame the extreme extent of our nationwide willful ignorance and quickness to follow the beating drums of outrage and insult with NO actual facts or details required.

I blame our nationwide indulgence in the love of accusation and simplification and the comfort of finding some easily identified “enemy”.

Theatre companies all over the country are getting death threats right now.  Not because Shakespeare in the Park in NYC is doing something controversial…but because we’ve become a country of people who are willing to vilify anyone who isn’t us, under any circumstance, for a chance to feel superior and justified in our outrage.  We’re happy to miss the point if we can have a chance at that particular indulgence.

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Rodney on the ROQ

I wrote this back in 2004 when a documentary was coming out about Rodney Bingenheimer.  He’s leaving KROQ as of June 5th so I thought I’d post it again.

“This is Rodney on the Roq and tonight we’re gonna hear from a local band called….”

I have mentioned before that I am an L.A. baby.  I’ve lived here almost my whole life (Those first four years in Florida hardly matter).  I have an older brother, five years older.  Older siblings can be very useful for bringing all sort of cool shit into the lives of younger siblings.

Mine was a great, great source for music and his source, eventually mine as well, was Rodney.

In 1978 I was a freshman in high school.  KROQ was this little punk radio station that only a few really cool people, such as my older brother, were listening to back then.  The big stations in L.A. at that time were KMET and KLOS.

But KROQ was….INSANE!  I remember sitting out on the pool deck and listening to them tell dirty jokes on the air and then having to come back on and apologize so they wouldn’t get fined.  The DJs were totally out of control but totally in control of the music that they played.  Something unheard of today.

Most importantly they had Rodney On The ROQ.  Rodney Bingenheimer.  The little nasally, whiney voiced guy who did NOT sound at all like the 70’s era velvet voiced DJs we were all so used to back then.  Rodney was punk radio here in L.A. even though he played tons of stuff that wasn’t punk.  But he sort of personified the idea of punk…the idea of do it yourdamnself if you want it done…sound however it is YOU sound…and listen to everything.

Rodney was our lifeline out in the Suburbs.  He told us what bands to go see and where to go see them.  The Motels at Madame Wongs East, Elvis Costello and the Attractions at Fairfax High, The Naughty Sweeties at the Country Club, X at the Whiskey, The Germs at The Mask…it was crazy and wonderful.

Did I see any of those bands in 1978…HELL NO!  I was 14…but my brother saw quite a few of them and brought the news from the front to us stuck behind in the trenches.  Then we swarmed up to Lovells, our independent record store and bought all the albums we could find by those bands.  We listened faithfully to KROQ….most faithfully to Rodney.

There’s a documentary coming out about Rodney called “The Mayor Of Sunset Strip”.  Here’s the thing about Rodney these days.  KROQ tried to take him off the air a few years ago but the public outcry was SO huge that they changed their minds… instead they gave him a shitty time slot.  His show is relegated to the wasteland of Midnight to 4a.m. I think, on Sunday nights.  The station is now such a fucking protected bunker that it’s almost impossible for an unsigned band to get a tape or a CD to Rodney (the only DJ allowed to play whatever he wants).  Which is one of the reasons that for years now he always announces where he’ll be after his show or even just on a regular basis.  I know tons of musicians who have walked up to him at diner counters where he was eating and handed him a tape or a CD and he has always been gracious and kind.  Rodney has launched and supported the careers of countless famous musicians…but he lives in a very modest apartment in Hollywood.  He’s not rich, I’m pretty sure from everything I’ve read over the past few years about him, he’s barely making it.  But, seemingly, he’s still living the life he loves…a life that is only about music.  He doesn’t seem unhappy, even if he is frustrated, like all of us, with the state of radio these days.

Just a few months ago a friend of mine got their CD into Rodney’s hands and he played it and said really nice things about them on the air.  Then, knowing that midnight to 4a.m. wasn’t gonna get anyone going….he got their CD into the hands of one of the other DJs at KROQ and he played it.

Rodney Bingenheimer is one of those rare people who knows amazing music when he hears it and will fearlessly play it on the radio.  There was a lot of brouhaha when Tom Petty put out the song, “The Last DJ” which many speculated was about another L.A. DJ who refused to kowtow to the Corporate Radio bullshit.  But that DJ only plays music that is 20-30 years old, that DJ didn’t play Tom Petty and Heartbreakers back in 1978.  Rodney played TP and the HBers back then, when they were new and dangerous.  Today he plays music that is new and dangerous and NOT a guaranteed hit.

If anyone is the last true DJ in this town….it’s the guy with the whiney voice telling you about “The Randies playing at the Key Club tonight” from Midnight to 4AM.

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Back off of my city please…

I wrote this a while back and periodically have to post it because apparently it still needs saying…

WARNING:  If this post resembles you keep in mind that I love and adore you and I don’t mean to offend you but I do get a bit resentful about this shit.

ALRIGHT!

We need to talk!

I’ve just about had it with the L.A. bashing.

Now honestly I understand this is NOT some perfect place.  I understand that it has a whole host of problems.  I’m pretty damn sure I know them even better than you folks do because I’ve lived here my entire damn life.

Yeah, yeah the driving can be a drag.  The traffic can be unbearable.  The lack of decent public transportation can drive you insane.  The endless sprawl of suburban drabness can start to melt your brain.  The lousy air quality can actually make you ill.

Then there’s the reason so many of you folks come here in the first place. The entertainment business.  Yes it’s horrifying how shallow the entertainment business is isn’t it?  Which spawns some pretty shallow and decidedly mean people.  But hey lets call a spade a fucking shovel here OK?  None of you came here for the fine art community, the theatre community or the jazz scene did ya?  Nope.  You all came here with an eye on becoming a movie star or a rock star.

Then y’all get bitter and pissy when what you find is a business filled with self-involved, self-motivated business people who want to make money….not art.  Then as you struggle to be an artist in the midst of a business industry you start to lose sight of what it is you want, what it is that is important to you.  You find yourself trying to write a KROQ ready single or dreaming of getting a national commercial selling dish soap.  You start to feel bad, you start to miss the way you felt when you were in college or even high school back in Ohio or D.C. or Racine.  You remember that at one time you just wrote the music you loved for no reason at all or you were a member of a small theatre group that did wonderful productions of American plays in the park.  You decide that the real problem is that this town is destroying your artistic soul, that Los Angeles is somehow responsible for you losing sight of what was important to you.  Well I take decided EXCEPTION to that idea.

I will agree that the entertainment business is not the best place for an artist, I also acknowledge how problematic that is, but don’t blame my home town for the effects of your own desires for success and one industry’s lousy ethics and lack of soul.  Not everyone who lives in L.A. is in the entertainment industry.  Not everything in L.A. has to do with the entertainment industry.

This is a city full of contradictions and a wealth of different cultures that mix and separate and mix again.  This is a city where you will see a wild coyote running down Hollywood Blvd. at midnight when the Santa Ana winds are blowing like crazy.  This is city where you will see a car driving down the 210 freeway in 78 degree weather with skis and snow on its roof.  This is a city where on January 1st you will find a large number of people surfing to ring in the New Year.  This is a city of teachers and garbage collectors and shop keepers and lawyers and doctors and factory workers and gardeners and maids and rich people and poor people and everything in between.  This is a city like no other city, with a subtly of seasons that it takes a lifetime to detect and a soul that can feed your art if you can figure out how to find it.

I’m not saying you have to like my town.  I understand how it might not work for everyone.  But that’s true of anywhere.  What bothers me is that I don’t hear anyone saying, “Seattle sucked the soul out of all my artistic friends” or “Racine killed her desire to be an actor” or “Chicago made it impossible for me to write any decent music”.  I’ve heard people say that the insider nature of the theatre community in Chicago made it hard to get started there.  I’ve heard people say that the snootiness of the indie rock scene in the Pacific Northwest made it impossible to get booked into a decent club.  But no one blames the city for those things.

All I’m asking is that you place your blame in the right location.  Tons of people don’t like New York because it’s a big dirty city or Minneapolis because it’s too cold or New Orleans because it’s too hot and there’s no clean drinking water or Los Angeles because it’s too spread out and you do have to have a car to get around.  But if you or your friends lose sight of their artistic soul then I suggest taking some responsibility for the maintenance on that soul because if you don’t nurture it yourself the geography won’t make a damn bit of difference

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Getting Through

I wrote this a few years back, some of you may remember it.
I was reminded of it because of something I read this past 
weekend and thought I would share it again.

 

You cast aside the sheet, you cast aside the shroud
Of another man, who served the world proud
You greet another son, you lose another one
On some sunny day and always stay, Mary
Jesus says Mother I couldn’t stay another day longer
Flys right by me and leaves a kiss upon her face
While the angels are singin’ his praises in a blaze of glory
Mary stays behind and starts cleaning up the place
Mary by Patty Griffin

 

Getting through…

She had watched her Mother lose a son to war. Her Mother had washed dishes, arranged the services, found a good photo of her brother, cleaned the house, got her Fathers suit to and back from the cleaners and bought a new black dress and shoes for herself to wear. Her Father sat in his chair, tears sliding down his face for days. Her Mother called everyone, she gave out directions, stood immobile as the gun salute made everyone else jump and held the tightly folded flag in her un-shaking hands. She stared resolutely straight ahead as they lowered the coffin into the ground. Her Father sat in a chair, tears sliding down his face endlessly. Her Mother served the coffee, she found bowls for the food, she smiled tightly, she suffered the condolences, she put her Husband to bed. Then later that night she took off that new black dress and black shoes and walked to the back yard in her slip and stocking feet. She placed the dress and shoes into the Webber grill and soaked it in lighter fluid, lit it and stood there while it burned. In the flickering light of that strange fire she finally cried. Then as the fire died, she covered the grill with its lid, went back inside…and started in on the dishes.

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A Depth of Love

There is a depth of love that is most easily noticed by the way it breaks your heart.  Not in a bad way but in that breaking is a way of being fundamentally changed.  I know exactly who in my life I love to that depth.  It’s a gift of middle age to be honest.  Not that I didn’t experience it when I was younger but I didn’t really know what it was or how completely that love exists regardless of almost anything…it just continues to exist.  There is almost no rhyme or reason to this love, it just is and it takes my breath away.

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A Poem by the Amazing Sandra Cisneros

I need some poetry right now.  I need some art and music and dance and all that reminds me the human spirit is powerful and we rise above our failures and character defects and smallness even in the darkest of times.  I need some poetry right now and thought you might too.
xoxo Miss Bliss
Loose Woman – Poem by Sandra Cisneros

They say I’m a beast.
And feast on it. When all along
I thought that’s what a woman was.

They say I’m a bitch.
Or witch. I’ve claimed
the same and never winced.

They say I’m a macha, hell on wheels,
viva-la-vulva, fire and brimstone,
man-hating, devastating,
boogey-woman lesbian.
Not necessarily,
but I like the compliment.

The mob arrives with stones and sticks
to maim and lame and do me in.
All the same, when I open my mouth,
they wobble like gin.

Diamonds and pearls
tumble from my tongue.
Or toads and serpents.
Depending on the mood I’m in.

I like the itch I provoke.
The rustle of rumor
like crinoline.

I am the woman of myth and bullshit.
(True. I authored some of it.)
I built my little house of ill repute.
Brick by brick. Labored,
loved and masoned it.

I live like so.
Heart as sail, ballast, rudder, bow.
Rowdy. Indulgent to excess.
My sin and success-
I think of me to gluttony.

By all accounts I am
a danger to society.
I’m Pancha Villa.
I break laws,
upset the natural order,
anguish the Pope and make fathers cry.
I am beyond the jaw of law.
I’m la desperada, most-wanted public enemy.
My happy picture grinning from the wall.

I strike terror among the men.
I can’t be bothered what they think.
¡Que se vayan a la ching chang chong!
For this, the cross, the calvary.
In other words, I’m anarchy.

I’m an aim-well,
shoot-sharp,
sharp-tongued,
sh arp-thinking,
fast-speaking,
foot-loose,
loose-tongued,
let-loose,
woman-on-the-loo se
loose woman.
Beware, honey.

I’m Bitch. Beast. Macha.
¡Wáchale!
Ping! Ping! Ping!
I break things.

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The Power and Responsibility of Art

This is poetry…and whether you like it or not, whether you agree with its point of view or not, it is doing what art should always be doing…it confronts and it declares and it should make you think and think hard. Because none of us knows every truth and if you want me to see another point of view, maybe your point of view, show me a poem as passionate and courageous as this one.

Revenge by Elisa Chavez

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Broken isn’t Shattered

Today I am 30 years sober.

That seems completely impossible since I only feel about 30 years old inside my head but in truth I’m 52 years old inside and out.

A friend of mine used to say you had to be pretty damn sick to get sober right before the holidays (she had done the same thing) and some years I know she was absolutely right.

I’m grateful for my life today.  I’m grateful for my family and friends who are shining miracles of light and love and absolute saints for putting up with me.  I’m grateful for all the amazing people who walk through this life with such courage and joy showing me how it’s done.  I’m grateful for the people who walk through it all with me as we find our way together.

I’ve been struggling with some broken heartedness recently.  A dear friend is in a brutal battle with cancer and despair is lurking around every corner of my heart.  She’s fierce as shit so I’m trying to be too.  I can’t afford despair and she deserves much better than that from me.  So today I’m taking it heartbeat to heartbeat and I’m leaning on the warrior women in my life so I can send all our love and magic and support to my friend.  Staying out of the future, even the future of later today.  Right here, right now…making sure that my cracked heart is letting the light out, not letting the darkness in.  Because broken isn’t shattered.

Blessings.

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Steve Dillon 1962-2016

I read this morning that Steve Dillon has died.  You might not know that name.  To be honest I wouldn’t have recognized it if he hadn’t been identified in the headline by one of his more well-known books, Preacher.  He was a comic artist who worked quite a lot with Garth Ennis.  They worked on Hellblazer together, another favorite of mine.  I’m not a dedicated reader of comics or graphic novels but I do like the ones I like, even if I haven’t read them from beginning to end.  Years ago a friend of mine who works in the comic industry suggested I read Preacher.  He said he thought it was something I would like considering something I was writing at the time.  So I picked up Book One which included the first twelve issues of the comic.  It was gritty and darkly funny with a foundation of anger and melancholy.  That appealed to me.  So when I had to fly up to Oregon to visit my parents I took the book along and was happily reading it on the plane.  One of the flight attendants stopped by my seat at one point and quietly asked what I was reading.  I smiled and told him and he gave me a conspiratorial grin, telling me it was one of his favorite series.  He then told me a story about a flight that Garth Ennis was on and how he was the only person who realized who Ennis was and totally fanboyed out.  We laughed and enjoyed connecting with a fellow lover of comics in an unexpected place.

Steve Dillon adapted Preacher for television recently and the first season is out with a second season having been ordered.  That’s a wonderful bit of unexpected success for a comic regardless of what you might think from the giant Marvel and DC movies.  Books like Preacher are deserving of the same level of attention and respect but they are not quite as mainstream ready if you will.  I haven’t watched the show so I don’t have any opinion about it but I had this quiet little feeling of happiness for the book creators that it was made at all.  These people are astoundingly talented and they work so freakin’ hard for very little monetary success and often not a lot of public credit.  Clearly it’s changing but most of them are still living pretty tight and only known within the subculture of comics (yep, still a subculture when you compare it the world at large).

According to Garth Ennis in the NY Times Steve Dillon died of a burst appendix.  This is absolutely tragic and heart breaking.  He was only 54 years old.  A bright and creative light has gone out.

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The Face Of God

I’m in the middle of reading a New York Times article about Michelle Obama.  It’s titled “To The First Lady, With Love: Four thank-you notes to Michelle Obama, who has spent the past eight years quietly and confidently changing the course of American history.”  I had to stop after reading the first one to write this because with one line it brought me to tears.  Sometimes a writer manages to put something into words that is one of my most deeply held thoughts, hopes, wounds, resentments, and fiercely fought for beliefs.  These words made my heart stutter, made my breath catch and I had to work hard to control the tears because it showed me I am not alone in these thoughts even though I live in a world that insists this belief is not true and worse than that…it’s hateful, it’s sinful, it’s blasphemous, it’s so wrong that in some parts of the world we would most definitely be punished for speaking it out loud possibly killed for it.

But you know what?  Fuck that!

Here’s what connected me to someone I’ve never met today and reminded me that if there is a God…a God that deserves to be called God…then It certainly has no issue with this truth written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:

Michelle Obama was speaking. I felt protective of her because she was speaking to an America often too quick to read a black woman’s confidence as arrogance, her straightforwardness as entitlement.

She was informal, colloquial, her sentences bookended by the word “see,” a conversational fillip that also strangely felt like a mark of authenticity. She seemed genuine. She was genuine. All over America, black women were still, their eyes watching a form of God, because she represented their image writ large in the world.

There’s a whole lot there but what got me today was the ringing truth that the amazing woman who has been our First Lady for the last eight years is absolutely “a form of God”.

Woman as a form of God, much less black women as a form of God, is an idea that makes the big three Western religions squirm and whine and get very, very angry.  Their efforts to erase women from their rightful place as an equal image of God has unbalanced our society in a way that we may never recover from in my opinion.

Michelle Obama shines one of the brightest lights of fierce, intelligent, powerful, thoughtful womanhood ever to walk the public stage.  She does that as a black woman in the face of intense opposition to both her womanhood and her race and yet she continues to shine.

She continues to show us the face of God.

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