Last year’s greatest hits and a new way to support… all this.
Time flies like an arrow; Fruit flies like a banana. They’re really just days, you know. Days and seasons, and we give them names. They are organized thus because we’ve decided so. Not that I’m advocating an alternative, just… when they bleed into one another long enough, they start to lose their labels. Here’s hoping we can try for something like normalcy again by summer. In the meantime, stay safe. BE safe. And if you have a problem with that, like they say in Boston, smahten up.
First, a look ahead. In the coming year, we are hoping for some new music from Satellite Paradiso, although as you may be aware, our beloved captain, John Ashton is battling stage 4 prostate cancer– and the US health system. A GoFundMe campaign was set up to help, and the outpouring of support has been incredible. As John told me, “I’m doing great – for all the wrong reasons.” The maddening resurgence of COVID once again makes timelines uncertain, but as the metaphysical weather permits, the spirits are certainly willing. We had a really good jam session at Jonathan Donahue’s place, one of the highlights of the summer, actually. Got some good ideas. Keep your fingers crossed, folks.
The Bentmen have several projects gurgling slowly to life. Our process is necessarily shrouded in darkness, but from the discussions we’ve had, I could see multiple new albums evolving, each with a distinct modus operandi. I still have an unreleased remix album from Des’s side project, Orphans of the Storm, with Tony Levin, Gary Lucas, Casey Desmond, Scott Collins, Greg Hawkes and more, which I hope put out this year. Some of that is cross-pollinating.
I can neither confirm nor deny there’s also another album forthcoming from Secret Agent. There are allegedly some 30 different reports from our operatives around the globe that are being reviewed by the midnight crew of bargain counterintelligence professionals at Langley. The opening chapter is, in fact, code named LANGLEY (says he, making some news). The Home Office will not comment on any suggestions of recursive implications.
As if all that weren’t enough, my longtime colleague, John Chmaj (SHMAY) and I are talking about forming a group to further evolve our musical/multimedia explorations, called 21st Century Jazz. It’s a trio: piano, drums, and laptop. Gonna try to get a set together and do at least one gig in NYC this year. Dress nice.
One major source of frustration last year was my laptop was killed by a Windows update, so I’ve been without a PC for a while, and thus without access to VR. I’m not a gamer at all, but I use VR as my film studio. Hoping to rectify this situation soon. I just want to say – I’ve been using Macs since 1990, and I have never seen a machine irreparably bricked by a routine system update from Apple.
Did I mention I’m talking with a longtime colleague about doing fine art prints of my black and white photography? As I go through my archives, they seem to be self-organizing into three categories: Architectural Studies; Flora and Fauna; and Weird Stuff. Stay tuned.
Life is short, and getting shorter all the time. I’ve decided to centralize my online activity here, on my own site, and schedule broadcasts to my social media pages, so I can hopefully carve out more time for actual working. In case you hadn’t noticed, those social media sites are designed to be addictive. They’re great for reconnecting with old friends, organizing a revolution, or brainwashing the credulous, but really, if your orientation in life is as a Maker of Things, the right way to think about social media is as a glorified brochure.
And finally, I’m unveiling a new Patreon page, so that those of you who, bless you, would like to support what I’m doing can now subscribe to me, like I was your favorite radio station or magazine. I like the subscription model. I think it works well for everybody, and I support other artists and tech companies that way on Patreon and elsewhere, myself.
That takes care of the future. Now, here’s some of the more memorable and fun projects that crossed my desk in what we’re calling 2021…
Secret Agent – Rio
On the last night of the year, the Home Office cleared a brand new, unredacted report from our operatives in Brazil for public consumption. Distributed from an undisclosed location, this bombshell revelation began with live drum tracks, recorded al fresco, a cornucopia of beats played extemporaneously, while surreptitiously monitoring an iPhone metronome app for guardrails.
These were brought in for questioning. Using Logic, we cross-examined, filleted and marinated them, added the remaining unsavory characters, layer by layer, until we had the case all sewn up – in three days. Special Ops has determined the authorized dance method for this track as “two steps forward, one step back.” Top cyber brass expressed strong familiarity with the concept.
Bambi Everson – The Exorcism of Violet Ward
I wasn’t expecting to return to acting, but here we are, the Mrs. and I. We would never shout fire in a crowded theater, but we did shout theater in the middle of a global pandemic fire. “The show must go on” is the first rule of showbiz, and sadly that rule met its match for many. After a while, people started to figure out ways to get their work heard, like the first green shoots of Spring. Watching – let alone performing – plays on Zoom was wretched, but it was all we had.
Much of the play is drawn from Bambi‘s life, but it is emphatically not autobiographical! When I’ve done parts for her in the past, they always seem to be either a cop or a hit man, for some reason. This is the first part of this size I’ve done in a very long time. The experience got me to some unexpected places. I was an actor before I was anything else, so I do enjoy it, and will likely do it again. You may have noticed I’m billed as Lamont Cranston. It’s an inside joke.
The pandemic killed some trends, and accelerated others. Things evolved. Credit where it’s due to those adventurous souls who found ways to enhance the experience. Even Actor’s Equity, where they have a rule you must spit on the floor anytime someone says the word “video,” had to adapt.
This was filmed as a live performance onstage, but the only audience was the camera crew. It was streamed for a limited time, and tickets were sold to benefit Emerging Artists Theater. For all this hardship, it turned out to be very successful, which was most gratifying. Now that the benefit is over and sufficient time has gone by, we can share it with everyone.
More Bambi – Hot off the press
Things continued to evolve. We released three volumes of Bambi‘s plays in paperback last year. THE THIN MAN IN THE CHERRY ORCHARD; GRIEF ENCOUNTERS: Finding Andrew & Dad’s Home; and SINCERELY HELD BELIEFS. Here’s her author page on Amazon. They’re also available at our beloved Drama Book Shop.
I have books that are over 100 years old in my library, and I have yet to meet a hard drive that made it to its sixth birthday. Of all the work I did in the 90s – hundreds of projects, and I had every species of backup there was – the only things that survived are what I printed out on paper. So, we’re putting her plays on paper! She’s written over 30 of them.
Sure, we have plenty of legitimate issues with Amazon, and you should, too, but the fact is they made it relatively easy for us to do this, we’re not beholden to them in any way, we can sell our books anywhere, and their royalty arrangement is objectively quite fair. Much better than the criminally low rates paid to musicians by most streaming services, for example. Amazon pays musicians much better, too.
Nightnight – Ashes
Easily the most ambitious music video I’ve done in a long time. Whereas I like to have fun with layers of pre-existing videos as collage elements, every pixel of this one was bespoke, artisanally hand-crafted, made entirely from scratch. The drone videos of the desert came from a friend of Yasmin’s, but other than that, we shot everything ourselves.
The song is dark and mournful, and as fate would have it, I happen to live near The Cloisters, an amazing replica of a 13th Century monastery. Instant location! Most of it was shot with an iPhone, some of it with a Garmin 360. I’m very pleased with the final result. It helps when you have a great subject!
Lez Zeppelin – Videos for live performance
My brother Patrick referred me to Steph Paynes and the mighty Lez Zeppelin, who needed visual accompaniment for an upcoming show, the complete PHYSICAL GRAFFITI.
We had so much fun putting that together, I jumped at the chance to orchestrate their LED ZEPPELIN 4 performance. I HAD to jump – I only had 48 hours to put together all these videos for the whole album, plus another seven songs!
These videos use the original music track as a guide for timing. Some of the visuals run long deliberately, so there’s enough slack if the band runs long jamming out on a particular song.
Here’s a few of my favorites:
Stairway to Heaven
A lot of shots from Michael Powell’s classic A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH aka, uh, STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN. Familiarity breeds contempt, but after turning the dial for the last few decades whenever this showed up AGAIN, the process of putting this together brought me to a place where I remembered how this song felt when it was new. That we became numb to its message about consumerism has not served us well.
Rock and Roll
One of the cornerstones of the entire category of rock music, of course. I wanted to tap into its adrenelin. I wanted it to be relentless. A fucking RUSH.
There’s a classic short film by Claude Lelouch called C’était un rendez-vous. It’s a one-take, eight-minute, high-speed drive through Paris. They had to do it early Sunday morning, so they didn’t kill anybody. I sped up the entire film to fit into the space of the guitar solo and overlaid it on top of the subway action, for a little extra goosing.
When The Levee Breaks
For drummers, the opening beat of this song is kind of like the “duh-duh-duh-DUUHHH” of Beethoven’s Fifth, or “To be or not to be…” for everybody else. There’s a reason why it’s one of the most sampled in history. For this, I went to the US government historical archives site, and used footage of the actual 1927 flood of the Mississippi River that is the origin and subject of the song.
Jeff Hudson – It’s Working Real Good
The year began with a fun project for my old friend, Jeff Hudson. Jeff and his wife, Jane, were pillars of the Boston underground during the punk/new wave explosion. Their band, The Rentals, had the distinction of being the very first band in America to open for The Clash, on the first night of their first US tour, at the late, lamented Harvard Square Cinema. This was a fun mashup of vintage and future tech – early 90s video games and TV computer shows meets virtual reality trippingballs, courtesy of the good people at MicrodoseVR.
The “flat tire” beat
One of the side benefits of practicing in the park is little kids getting excited about it. Here I am, amusing a couple of small fry with a demonstration of the stupidest, most useless drumbeat ever. Love this little girl’s laugh. Turn captions on if they’re not already.
Gorilla My Dreams, I Love You
The Mrs. and I do know how to have a good time. You should have seen the comments on our apartment building’s private Facebook group. Just you wait. Bambi got a squid costume!
Elvis Catstello – Every Day I Bite The Book
When I first made this video, trying out my then-new Garmin 360 camera, YouTube threatened me with fire and fury for including the music. Years later, the algorithms have relaxed and I can finally show it. They’re all fully grown now!
Joan Jett – A Spaced OddKitty
Experiments in iPhone slo-mo. YouTube flagged the audio on this one at first, too, even though it came from a public domain library. I contested it and they backed down. Fight the power! Enjoy the flying cat video, fer chrissakes.
And with that, I hope to see you all here at this same time next year. Bon soir!