In an ever growing world of disassociated and disappearing humanity, however sad the subject of the interview was, for me this nurse showed that even in an ocean of despair, there were signs of land. Ms. Wendt gave light to the darkness in the sorely missing person to person connection.
Oh, my friends, the hug and the squeeze is going, going, almost gone. The kiss? Fuggetaboutit! I understand the necessity for it. I do. However, I believe there is a visceral connection between the going, going, gone, and the lack of caring and concern for others that is going along with it.
As we fade out of 2021 and take baby steps into 2022, I am attaching this interview for you.
Read it, please! I ask you to take this interview to heart, literally and figuratively.
As you, take it all to heart, a question occurs to me. If I can’t ask my almost best new friends, than who can it ask? Ready?
Where has Spirit gone?
Not a specific to any particular religious belief kind of spirit. Although, if that works for you, that is great. I am writing and thinking about the Spirit that moves the Universe.
Believe me, my adorable ones, you are all original, wonderful, and brilliantly creative… BUT… this morning you did not bring up the Sun, nor will you set it this evening. Come on! Admit it! We are surrounded by people who believe the Universe wouldn’t move without them. I know. I used to be one of them.
I think the more distance I create between myself and the mysteries and movement of the Universe, the more distance I create between me and you.
Love, Sally-Jane ❤️
P.S. Norton Owen, Director of Preservation at Jacob’s Pillow, has put together a video playlist, “Spirituals”. The collection is inspiring and challenging. Inspiring because of the enormous talent of all. Challenging because it proves that the Universe, Creation and Spirit are ONE.
I have a profound affinity for Stephen Sondheim. I always thought it was because of his brilliant musicals. However, I watched an interview he did many years ago. He was trying to explain about being neurotic . It was so simple for him.
“I like neurotic people.”
That’s it! He likes me. I love him.
He went further explaining that most people, including himself, were neurotic concerning their problems, professional, personal. When he writes from that sensibility he is going to touch someone. And isn’t that why we go to the theatre; to be transformed, transported, in some way, touched.
Stephen Sondheim may have passed away, November 25th, but as in the name of the song he wrote for Follies, I’m Still Here… he will always be here.
His death was and still is a shock to me.
My inner monologue upon hearing about his demise:
I can’t believe it.
What’d you expect? He was 91.
I’m 88… 91 is only 3 years away… too close… much too close.
This is not about you. I know. I know. I can’t help it. When I consider Sondheim is no longer with us, and some of the jerks who still are, makes me crazy…life really isn’t fair, is it???
To make this news totally personal (when have I ever not made everything totally personal), I’d like to share my experience performing Sondheim.
No dates. It was a long time ago.
I played Mama Rose many times in Summer Theatres and local Washington, D.C. theatre productions of Gypsy. Sondheim wrote the lyrics. Julie Styne the music. It is a musically and lyrically brilliant score. In the climax of the second act (or as Broadway Babies are wont to call it, the 11 o’clock spot), Mama Rose has a nervous breakdown. Sondheim broke the sound barrier. It was Broadway’s first operatic aria. The music, but mostly the lyrics are compelling, complex and incisive. It can be said for any performer playing Mama Rose, it’s all in the writing. It’s extra if you have a performer like Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Patti Lupone singing it. However, because it is all in the words, it is actor-proof material. No matter how many times I played that role, and I did play it many times, I don’t think I ever plumbed the depths of what Sondheim wrote.
I had a similar experience when I played Joanne in Company (Elaine Stritch’s signature role). The score for Company was brilliant, but, oh sooooo challenging! I could read music but I would never call myself a musician. Singing a Sondheim score is like singing Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Company is a brilliant and musically challenging ensemble theatre piece. No matter what grade of musician you are, performing that score challenged every actor beyond what they thought they were capable of. My song, Here’s To The Ladies Who Lunch was and remained a challenge until I saw Patti Lupone sing it at Lincoln Center’s Stephen Sondheim 80th Birthday Celebration:
Lupone took that song to where it was meant to go… to the moon. Even if I can’t perform it now, I am so grateful to have watched someone who got to the meat and heart of what Sondheim wrote. Another mystery solved.
My last example of performing Sondheim was a song he wrote for Yvonne De Carlo (remember Yvonne… exotic technicolor movie star of the 50’s?) in Follies, titled I’m Still Here.
I simply had to wait until I felt seasoned enough to fill the shoes of life experiences to give the nuances the lyrics demanded. I did a credible job with it. However, in that same Sondheim 80th Birthday celebration, Elaine Stritch literally knocks it out of the park:
Finally, I’d like to recommend a documentary produced and directed in 2013 by Sondheim’s friend and collaborator, James Lapine, and friend and former drama critic, Frank Rich, Six by Sondheim.
What makes a creative artist a genius? I don’t know. (laminate that statement…I don’t say it often enough)
I do know one such genius just passed this past Friday. As I watched the above documentary, two important and essential traits of Sondheim’s writing and ultimately who Sondheim is were made eminently clear.
Ambiguity, which for me translates to exhibit the zits and warts without judgement, and love.
If you study his lyrics which you can easily do by reading FINISHING THE HAT… the book he wrote of his collected lyrics with attendant remarks (aka delicious showbiz gossip), it is all there.
In the documentary he says, unequivocally, write from love.
Nobody says it is easy. No one says it is without pain. No one says it is without disappointment or grief. Considering his childhood was profoundly bereft of love, Stephen Sondheim is proof that along the way, as he opened himself to the universe, the universe did provide.
If I don’t measure the amount of media in my daily diet, I will suffer from Press Plaque Buildup.
The main symptom of this disease is cynicism. Sometimes I don’t even know I have fallen into this state. I am so involved in staying involved and current, I don’t see my hope and positivity slip and slide right out of my brain ball into the flotsam on the jetsam (the lost and local river of my mind).
I am pulled back from the precipice by art or music or nature or my favorite online newsletter BRAINPICKINGS. Replace the word NEWS with ART…which it is for me an ARTLETTER for the mind.
Recently, my level of press plaque buildup has hit a new high. What with Afghanastan , vaccinate vs. unvaccinate, mask or unmask, airline passengers assaulting attendants, to Boost or not to Boost, Red States vs. Blue states, why was Ted Lasso Christmas Show shown in August, my brain was spinning from positive to negative from hopeful to hopeless.
If any of what I’ve written resonates with you, my dear friends and family, I wish you a speedy recovery from the crazy world we live in, which by the way has always been crazy…take a look at any era… lions chasing Jews/Christians in an arena (personally I prefer to watch the Jets chase the Marlins), Whites chasing anyone of any color, Christians chasing Muslims in the Holy Land, Southerners chasing Northerners followed by Northerners chasing Southerners….endless.
To help that recovery, please read and I promise you will be converted from a Cynic, which we all now is nothing but a disappointed idealist, to your true, beautiful hopeful self.
More Self: I can always depend on you to ask the right question at the right time.
Even More Self: Who are you talking to?
Back to the first Self: Don’t ask. Just go with the flow.
There are so many reasons I tuned into the story of Buddy Guy:
I love the Blues. I have a vision of myself from forever as a singer of the Blues. Sitting atop a piano, looking strangely like a bad imitation of Julie London, plaintively crying a river of blues. My audience suitably sobbing (free tissue packs included in the price of admission.) Scratch a comedienne and you’ll find a tragedienne.
I knew the name Buddy Guy. I didn’t really know who he is.
American Masters always find really interesting people to profile.
Their documentaries are gloriously, artistically interesting and informative.
Buddy Guy is a blues guitar player in the style of his heroes and mentors, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters. Familiar names but little known to me. Buddy was born 83 years ago in a small town in Louisiana. From the beginning he never thought of himself as special. And as I listened to him describe his life in this small town, where his family were share croppers and as a child, he picked cotton. Before I even heard him play, I felt I was being osmotically drawn to him right through all the electronic apparatus between him and me. As I watched and listened to him learn to play, at first with only two strings before he had enough money to buy a real guitar, I thought… ”What is it about this man that touches me so deeply? First, his humility… what can I say, is humbling. At a time when everyone is “look at me-ing” all over the place, he put his focus where it belonged… on discovering, exploring, and practicing his gift.
He needed to breathe. He needed to play. One was inextricably linked to the other. I related. Even when I didn’t want to, that is how I lived.
In the first moments of this profile, I watched as he listened to the greats of his time, first in Baton Rouge then after moving on to Chicago. All he ever wanted to do was try to play like they did. He never thought he’d ever become a professional musician. He just wanted to play his guitar. Chicago was a mecca for the Blues. He could and did watch. He could and did listen. For him it was simple. He needed to breathe. He needed to play. This was all very familiar to me. I was hooked.
Throughout the documentary, various personalities, guitar players (of all ages), managers, agents, tell Buddy’s story. And then we have the Brits. I find it interesting that most Americans of the 50’s and 60’s and even into the 70’s (my ignorance astounds me, but then it always has) didn’t know about Buddy or Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters, or John Lee Hooker, but Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones knew. Eric Clapton knew. Stevie Ray Vaughn knew, and when Buddy went to London as a tourist…. the Brits pounced on him and made him play with them and it was the breakthrough he needed because it was when the Stones toured the States that they demanded and got these great unknown (Ha! Ha!) guitar players included in their tours.
An amazing piece of Black History. Of course there are so many unknown amazing pieces of Black History to shake up the shame I share with whoever is willing to share it with me.
Another piece of my ignorance follows the various interviews of one, John Mayer. I had only heard of him as the escort of various People Magazine movie and television stars. (Please don’t give me grief. People magazine is my go to the beauty salon, doctor offices, necessary reading material. I call ahead to be assured the establishments carry the latest issues.) So who knew from John Mayer? Turns out these movie stars knew a good thing after all. He was truly erudite, intelligent and bonkers over Buddy. And I understand he can play guitar as well as other things, too.
Buddy Guy’s life story stirred my thinking about the creative process.
As I view some of the artists today, I am saddened. It’s not as if I do not see the talent, the gift. In my thinking however, the gift really is only one small part of an artist’s process. Without discipline, without working the gift, it can only go so far. In fact, I would say, without the kind of practicing that Buddy Guy did, his glorious gift would never have developed the way it did. Practice doesn’t guarantee success, but without it the shelf life of the artist’s gift is a short one.
The Confession: I love music. However, I am not now or have I ever considered myself expert in the field of music… modern, classical, R&B, pop. I simply know what I like and what I don’t like. I think I would qualify as your average, every day, listener, EXCEPT for my opinionated Big Mouth.
The Disclaimer: Yes I was a singer. Yes I was a dancer. Yes I played a very bad piano. All to say I knew about music… definitively not as an expert but as a participating viewer, listener and performer.
This information is leading you to an adventure I had in the world of music and, oh, so much more, on Hulu Streaming last Friday evening: Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) Over the course of six weeks during the summer of 1969, thousands of people attended the Harlem Cultural Festival to celebrate Black history, culture, music and fashion held in Morris Park in the Bronx (an almost as infamous borough as Brooklyn, but not quite).
I am and always will be the Brooklyn girl who had friends and went to school with all races and religions. In 1969, I was thirty-six. OMG was I ever 36? I guess I had to have been to get to 37 and on up and up and up. My life was circumscribed by my children and my career. In combination, there was not a spare breath for any other activity. I was living and working in Washington, D.C., a recently desegregated Southern city that had been rocked by the recent assassinations of Malcom X, Martin Luther King, JFK, Bobby Kennedy. Of course I was aware of the Happening in Woodstock… the crazies invading a bucolic setting in New York State where wild men and women made music, love, drank wine, did drugs and more… a veritable hippie Sodom and Gomorrah.
In 1969, the whole world knew about Woodstock. In 1969, no one knew about the Summer of Soul concerts in Morris Park.
The only people that knew about the Summer of Soul concerts in Morris Park were the 40,000 to 50,000 people who attended them. Definitely a Black majority coming out of Harlem… which is where the subtitle (When The Revolution Could Not be Televised) comes from. Woodstock had television and movie studios vying for the rights to film the concert. Summer of Soul sponsors had to beg for money to film and record their concerts. And we are thankful for those sponsors that had the foresight to make a record of an historical and cultural moment in Black History 52 years before BLACK LIVES MATTER.
I could do chapter and verse about the difference between Woodstock and Morris Park… it wouldn’t work… it’d be comparing apples and oranges. They are just two different fruits or vegetables. There is a striking difference, however, other than color in the demeanor of the attendees of Woodstock and Morris Park. A psychologist would have a grand time looking at the behavioral differences. Considering the line up of this concert, it will be no hardship for you to watch this concert and make your own evaluation. A picture is worth a thousand words.
These artists are enough to pump even this ‘ole soul. Stevie Wonder (looking like he’s 12), Gladys Knight and the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, The 5th Dimension, The Chamber Brothers, David Ruffin (I didn’t know him, but I did know My Girl), Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach, Jesse Jackson (not singing but speaking eloquently), and an unbelievably incredible and stirring performance by Nina Simone. There are so many more and I am showing my ignorance by not knowing them before this documentary.
The point is I know them now. To watch these beautiful artists, is to be reminded of how long it takes this nation , indivisible (we hope), under God, to change a light bulb and the way it thinks.
Yup, as the privileged white woman watching this concert, I went through it all. From despair to hope. I am happy to report I came out on the side of HOPE. That is what good music always does for me.
I have been a Covid hostage from March of 2020 until February of 2021, which is when I got my first vaccination shot. That is enough time for what’s called the Stockholm Syndrome to take root and build within my psyche the necessary combination of fear and helplessness. If that isn’t a diagnosis of the Stockholm Syndrome then I’m a monkey’s uncle. Although, as we struggle with new gender definitions, I believe I would be a monkey’s aunt or monkey’s They???? Sorry, can’t go there because I am too ill informed.
Ok so I acknowledge I am a victim of Covid Stockholm Syndrome. And thankfully, I do not feel alone. Please let me know if this resonates with you.
Since I have returned north (Brrrrrrr!!!), I have been talking to friends and family about their winter in a cold Covid climate and the advent of the vaccinations and the promise of a different Spring and Summer from last year. I feel like I am a human who has been in hibernation. And as the vaccinations proceed very slowly, one foot in front of the other, sniffing and searching as I go, testing the waters as I move from my cave into the light.
In a sense, the exit from my cave and my acceptance of the vaccine is a very personal leap of faith. Every time I have ever made one of those leaps of faith, I have found the juice of life is more profound and though the leaps can be challenging and frightening, ultimately for me they make my life more satisfying.
Yeah??? So what’s my point???
Well, I have discovered quite a few friends that are satisfied with the Covid status quo of the past. Translation: No vaccine. I have spent much of my life opting for FREE CHOICE… religion, race, sex, education… your life, you choose. Well, of course there is a caveat… what’s the matter with you? You think life is fair or free? Not! Only for babies! And then, as sadly we know, in many cases not even for babies.
All right already, I’m getting to it. Here is my point. There is a cost to life. We are periodically asked to make a leap of faith. And for me, getting the vaccine is a leap of faith. There is so much we don’t know. We don’t know way more than we do know… forever. However, if I want to come out of my cave, not wear a mask, travel to see friends, relatives, or the Aurora Borealis, give or get a hug from someone outside my POD (OMG it sounds like a remake of The Body Snatchers), then I need to get my shot.
So what has this got to do with the Stockholm Syndrome?
All of us have been kidnapped by Covid, that’s what!!!
I think it’s time we recognize that fear and helplessness narrows the world and limits life’s opportunities and the wonderful joyful noise that goes with it.
I’m packing to travel North. This is not a fun thing to do. I need a laugh. I always need a laugh. And rewatching old episodes of The Nanny was not doing the trick because I can’t stand the laugh tracks
Over the covid-pandemic-isolating year finding a laugh meant I could hold out for another day. I’m down to counting microseconds so I can take my shot-up body North to hug other shot-up bodies.
Between packing breaks I hydrate and read.
Today I received the April 12th issue of The New Yorker. Anthony Lane, their movie critic, provided me with THE BIG LAUGH.
Very recently I had a very challenging and ultimately satisfying experience.
I think most of you received an email about my reading the Edith Wharton short story The Mission of Jane at The Mount (Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, Massachusetts)
This was going to be the fifth year of my reading this story. I had convinced the powers that be that the story was so rich and funny that a yearly reading would plumb the depths of pathos and humor of Wharton’s writing. Thankfully, they agreed.
Enter the villain virus.
It was a challenge for Susan Wissler, Executive Director of The Mount.
There is nothing Susan likes better than a challenge. She took a failing Mount out of bankruptcy and the cultural world marveled at her leadership bringing The Mount into solvency and success.
She accepted the Villian Virus challenge. The latest of which were the live readings of Edith Wharton’s and other short stories. Of course it had to be outdoors and the number of audience limited and distances set. She decided to use the forecourt of The Mount – a beautiful area originally established for carriages and cars to dispense passengers before their entering the mansion. It was perfect.
Wednesday, August 19th arrived with sun, then clouds, then rain and not until 4 pm before a 5:30 reading was there a go-ahead. Leaving this reader slightly frazzled. Hey, guys, those in the know know… it don’t take much for that to happen. Sensitive or neurotic or a little of both. Take your pick.
The build-up to performance was intense. I rehearsed. I tried to forget my age. (fat chance) I love performing. I love the story. I love The Mount.
“Be gone, Virus! You are not welcome here!”
The reading was SOLD OUT. The reading was limited to and audience of 45. I didn’t care. I love saying I played to a sold out house. Sue me!
I looked out over the audience. Two people seated way over left, 3 people seated way over right, 4 people here and there, another double, another triple, and so on spread apart from each other (as required by law) all through the forecourt. There was no audience seating. There were disparate chairs placed all over the space. So that I could not read to one group as I did before but individual groupings which made it difficult for the audience to relate to each other, no less to the reader.
It is something I never thought about before, but when a member of an audience comes into a performance space, he or she may start out individually but as the performance continues the audience slowly but surely becomes unified, sometimes for you and sometimes against you.
I would venture a guess that, seated together as they all are, that unity makes it possible for the actor or actors to create the necessary bond to create a satisfactory relationship. A catharthis, right? (look it up) I am grateful that the story was an hour long because it took me at least thirty minutes to bring this disparate audience into a unified one.
And then there is the wearing of masks. This was a reading in daylight. I looked out at a sea of faces masked to their eyeballs. At the beginning I couldn’t see their smiles or hear their laughter (some advantage… I couldn’t see them yawn, either.) As the story progressed and as the audience came together, the laughter escaped the masks and finally I could sense there was enjoyment.
There was a nice prolonged applause at the end of the story. And, my friends, I have to tell you I think in part it was for me and the story, but I also think it was because the event at The Mount gave 45 people the opportunity to come out from their isolation, from their quarantine and for that they were grateful. Me, too.
I want to thank Susan Wissler and The Mount for the opportunity for me to blow my horn and also for creating engaging, inclusive programs for all.
I was so grateful to be able to provide release and relief in the time of this pandemic. And I look forward (ain’t that a nice word for this time in all our lives!) to more creative and satisfying experiences.
Right? Of course, right!!!!
Love, Sally-Jane ❤️
P.S. Our next opportunity for a creative and satisfying experience is coming up!!
In a recent coffee klatsch with my new very best friend, Voltaire, he reminded me, “Sally-Jane…
In light of this very wise and prescient statement, I am all too aware of how little we know of American History. Of course, it didn’t help that history books until a recent time had a very one-sided version of what happened before, during and after the founding of these United States of America.
I am old enough to remember that my history books taught that many American Indian tribes were our enemies, but not how the enmity originated.
I don’t remember reading about President Andrew Jackson forcing them off their ancestral lands in the East onto the infamous march West… The Trail of Tears.
I don’t remember reading about President Andrew Johnson shredding Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation promises, aided and abetted by Confederate officers and soldiers into proclaiming Jim Crow as the law of the South and founding the KKK.
I could go on but I think I would rather present you with a cornucopia of gifted artists and writers who will, through document and performance, enlighten your way .
It has been spoken. It has been written. You cannot grow… You cannot know…
Where do I come from…?
How did I get here…?
Read on MacEveryone….
Don’t ask me why I chose this book, She Would Be King: A Novel by Wayétu Moore. I knew nothing about it. Maybe because I was celebrating my bookstore having finally come out of its pandemic hibernation. And the title was definitely quirky. I chose a winner. The author is black and beautiful and she writes like a dream. In fact dreams have a lot to do with this magically and very realistic story. I never understood what it meant to read a book of magic realism. I’m not sure I do now but I am beginning to understand this category mixes the reality of the founding of Liberia in the 19th Century and the fantastical but oh, so real journey of the three main characters towards their destiny. Their imprint is indelible in my psyche, my soul, but most of all, my spirit.
In the PBS program, Twilight: Los Angeles, award-winning director Marc Levin weaves, Anna Deavere Smith’s powerful one-woman theater piece of the same name with news footage and interviews to create a portrait of rage, sorrow, loss, and battered hope surrounding the 1991 Rodney King beating, the violent aftermath of the 1992 verdict, and the lasting impact of the L.A. riots on America’s conscience.
I have a confession to make. I am usually not a podcast listener. But I have an investigative reporter feeding me with brilliant podcasts. She also happens to be my daughter.