Monday, June 27, 2011

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine

On August 13th I'm gong to be performing at the Lake Poway Campout. August 13th happens to be the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower.

The story of Perseus is near and dear to me. When I was a very young boy we had a book fair at the school. My teacher saved a copy of D'Aulaire's Greek Myths especially for me, she said I would enjoy it. I bought it and I was hooked! I read and re-read that book a hundred times (I just re-read it again a couple of months ago), I made family trees of the greeks, and I wrote myths about the gods who weren't represented.

Then, in 1981 Clash of the Titans came to our tiny, local movie theater. The theater was only 50 cents for double-feature and when a new movie was out, we would go in the morning and stay all day. I remember it like it was yesterday, it played with Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, a Charles Schneer/ Ray Harihausen extravaganza. I could have died at 12 years old and my life would've been complete - I had seen all that was right with the world.

When I visited Florence twenty years later, I required a picture with Cellini's Persesus.

Now, I like to inject some learnin' into my campfires, and I've learned to find the constellation of Persesus so I can point out the nexus of the meteor storm, and I've learned the source of the storm. It's a terribly gloomy story:

Each year, in August, we pass through the orbit of comet Swift-Tuttle. Swift-Tuttle orbits the sun once every 130 years, leaving behind a trail of debris, that from our perspective, appears to originate in the direction of the constellation Perseus. The comet was first discovered, in the second half of the 19th century, by two different atronomers: Swift and Tuttle. Much like Edmund Halley, they calculated the course of the comet and predicted when it would appear in 1992.
When astronomers looked for the comet in 1992, it was 17 days late. Scientists adjusted all calculations for the 17 day difference and discovered that the comet will slam into the earth in 2126.
The comet Swift-Tuttle is 27 kilometers in diamters, the comet that killed the dinosaurs (affectionately referred to as "The K-T Impactor") was only 10 km in diameter. Swift-Tuttle travels at 60 km per second and will impact with a force 27 times greater than the K-T Impactor - effectively killing all multi-cellular life on Earth. Ahh, good times.
 So, of course scientist launched all their super-computers and studied the notes of ancient Chinese atronomers who had documented the comet and eventually determined that it will miss us, but it's going to be close and will appear in the sky as spectacularly as Hale-Bopp did in 1997 (we married in May of '97 at the edge of Grand Canyon, with Hale-Bopp hanging in the sky above us).
Now, they're saying that Swift-Tuttle will make its closest approach in Spetember of 4479, at which point it may indeed slam in the Earth.

All this gives Swift-Tuttle the title of "The most dangerous object known to humanity"

Cellini's Perseus in Florence

Monday, June 20, 2011

Everybody was Kung Fu Fightin!

As a musician, I will often work on "tools" instead of whole pieces of music. I'll practice arpeggios, scales or chords, the building blocks of music so that when I dive into a song it's easier, I just use the tools I have already developed to help me put the song together.
The same is true of storytelling.
Earlier today I was practicing depicting personal martial combat - it's not that easy.
There's an iconic scene in King Kong where Kong wrestles a T. Rex while Ann Darrow watches. The scene is so iconic that Peter Jackson recreated Willis O'brien's original stop-motion scene move-for-move. I wanted to depict the same action, the violence and power of two giant monsters grappling.
Remember Jurassic Park? When the T. Rex was walking the ground shook so hard that water rippled in a puddle, imagine the same Rex locked in combat with an equally massive gorilla and the two beasts fall to the ground.
Describing action like that - the wrestling moves, the grabs and throws, punching and biting with so much speed, violence and size is difficult to convey to the audience clearly and still keep that wild frenetic feeling.
And that's why I practice telling fight scenes.
This week I'm presenting my summer reading program: Land of the Giants, one of the stories I'm going to tell is The Goblin Spider, from Robert Sans Souci's Short and Shivery. The story contains no less than two epic sword battles, the Samurais Raiko and Tsuna battle an army of demons, back to back, in the pouring rain, from dusk to dawn, each one wielding a pair of flashing swords, slashing down demons and goblins with all the style of a Hong-Kong wuxia film, all the while throwing out action movie one-liners: "The sun will be leaving us soon." "Then we shall have to kill this monster in the dark!"

It's good to practice this kind of thing without the context of a story. Just imagine two gladiators thrown into a pit with various weapons, and/or an acid spitting giant cobra. And describe the action, what happens? How does it happen? How do you describe all the detail with a fast enough pace to convey the savagery of combat?

This of course applies to all sorts of tools.

I have trouble portraying love scenes in a manner that doesn't feel corny to me. At heart I'm a ten-year-old boy who likes action and adventure, but a big part of that is rescuing fair maidens, ghostly wives forever watching for their sea-captain husbands, and lantern-jawed lugs confessing their love to starlets with heart of gold.
And so I practice these too.

There're so many tools to work on if you just think about it a little: fight scenes, love scenes, funny voices (what does a talking pig sound like?), describing objects, and settings.
Just like music, if you practice all of your tools separately, as part of a regimen, then when the time comes to play a new concerto, or tell a story about samurais battling a giant spider, you'll already have the tools to play all the parts, or tell every scene, so you can simply concentrate on the making the whole greater than the sum of its parts

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What do you do?

I hate turning down work.
I kind of relish the old days when I didn't have as many bookings and I took every job that came my way. The problem with the entertainment biz is that  99% of work occurs on Fridays and Saturdays, so there's bound to be conflicts. But still, when you get a request for a show, especially one that's cooler than what you already have booked there, it's incredibly disappointing.
When that happens it just puts me in a funk. I know I'm s'posed to think, hey that's cool, I'm so in demand that people are lining up to get me, but all I can think of is the missed opportunity.