Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Blair ax project: Making guitars, making a racket

W.A.S.P. guitarist Doug Blair and his Blade guitar.
OK, class: settle down. Hey. I. Said. Settle. Down! Now! … OK, that's better. This week in Port Rules: Our Impact on the History of Rock and Roll, we're going to look at "Babylon's Burning," a video from W.A.S.P.'s 2009 album "Babylon," That, of course, that's the infamous Blackie Lawless center stage, playing bass and singing. Nope, no mistaking that melodic howl. He's the only original member of the band, which is celebrating three decades of scaring and creeping out American mommies and daddies with his rude and crude lyrics, adding fuel to the obnoxious fire, especially during the early years, with his in-your-face antics, like throwing raw meat into the audience or firing up the old flame-throwing or buzz-sawing codpiece or using bound-and-gagged women as props. Cute, eh? All of which earned the rockers, who emerged from the metal stew with bands like Motley Crue and Quiet Riot in the early ‘80s, a big old target on their backs from self-righteous censors like the so-called Parents Music Resource Council. And, in the spirit of the PMRC, a word of warning about the video: Try not to focus on the ridiculous Raiders’ T Blackie’s wearing, or, for that matter, the Raiders emblem on his bass. Poor guy's from the West Coast and doesn't know any better. And, to be fair, the Raiders did manage to win as many games as they lost this year — finishing the season a full game better than the bottom-dwellers. Which is playoff-worthy in that division. Besides, this time the spotlight's not on Blackie. We're looking at the guy stage left. That's Doug Blair, a Newburyport resident for about a decade and a three-time member of the band. That's him playing the crazy-looking guitar, which, like the guitarist, has roots in the city.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Faigen: 'Snow' business like show business, awk!

Port playwright Joshua Faigen, back at the Big Show.
Josh Faigen is on the phone. We’re supposed to be talking about his new play, and maybe we are. Who the hell knows? The only sound clearly audible is this horrendous, god-awful squawking, apparently some kind of bird, a parrot maybe. Name's Mary or Barry or something. Harry? Yeah, Harry. Named after his grandfather? "Don't ask," he says. Faigen, that is, not the bird. He squawks about ten minutes a day, then settles down. The bird, not Faigen. Except when he's talking on the phone. Faigen, not the bird. He doesn't like that. The bird, not Faigen. And expresses his irritation with unscheduled squawking. Usually lasts about ten minutes, then everybody can calm down. Faigen's been dealing with Harry's telephone envy for about 17 years, since  Pittsburgh, where Harry, Faigen and his wife, Penny Lazarus, lived before moving to the Port about a decade ago. Apparently, these creatures can irritate people for up to four decades, which is also interesting, but, at this point, I know more about the bird than "A Book of Snow," the new Faigen production, which will anchor this year's New Works Festival. So, now that Harry's finally calmed down, let's get busy.

Pasternack chillin' at this year's New Works

Playwright Leslie Pasternack with Sylvia, um, Simon.
Yup, Leslie Pasternack's back at the New Works Festival, but this year it's gonna be a little different. Way different, actually. Instead of running around like a crazy woman backstage or running lines in rehearsal, she's been kicking back at home, without a care in the world, other than dealing with a lingering case of, well, theater's equivalent of postpartum depression — when all that's left of a production is the memories and the reviews and, in Pasternack's case, a bloody goat head. You see, a month and a half ago, Pasternack had to say goodbye to Sylvia, the virtually unseen character in "The Goat, or who is Sylvia," Edward Albee's controversial — and creepy — parable about a guy who falls in love with a goat, who nobody actually sees until the end of the play, and all you actually see is the head. Which Pasternack, who directed the play, had been babysitting since the show closed last summer and had become strangely, perhaps dangerously, attached to it — her? — right down the sinewy stump, for which she had to pay extra.  She had to return Sylvia to Steve Faria, the Newbury actor, playwright and director who mounted the Actors Studio production. She's said her goodbyes — and has moved on, she says, but also admits, in an unguarded moment,  that she is "pining still" for sad Sylvia. Or maybe she's just playing. She is an actress, after all.  But, if true, the big win came at the perfect moment.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

American classical music finds its voice, old school

Strictly speaking, there's still nearly three decades left of the so-called American Century, the somewhat jingoistic phrase coined in 1941 by Henry Luce, the American Century's first multimedia mogul, to spur on the good old USA to dominate the world stage in politics, business and culture, not necessarily in that order, just the way God wanted it. But, truth be told, it looks like our century has passed in everything but the cultural realm and, while we may make it to the finish line of our designated time, we will probably be limping and hurting and gasping for breath, impressing no one, save for the cheerleaders for the power de jour and its hangers-on. So, the Boston-based collective Amercan Century Music seems a little unstuck in time, historically speaking, seeing how much, if not most, of its programming comes from before our self-proclaimed time — and far more benign, referring to the period when American classical music found its own voice, but not shouting at people with it. In fact, all three pieces in "Voices of the Early American Century," the ensemble’s second performance in Newburyport, were created and performed before Luce ever shot off his big mouth. About that, anyhow.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Barnard Firehouse photo exhibit shines infrared-hot

Jeremy Barnard remembers the bad old days of infrared photography, back in the days of film and chemicals. He remembers them well, the bad old days, remembers them as ... well, kind of like golf. Not because the work was mind-numbingly boring, like the so-called sport is for most, if not all, sentient beings, or because you are required to wear silly-looking clothes, but because of the way the game, and the style of photography, just takes it out of you — challenging you, taunting you, all but daring you to throw your clubs — or your camera — into the lake. Where they belong. Like most golfers, if you were working the infrared part of the light spectrum before the dawn of the digital age, you "stunk most of the time," says Barnard. Not for lack of talent or for an inability to keep your eye on the ball, but because the technology itself was, back then, unpredictable — and flawed.  "It drives you out of your mind, but then, just as you're about to quit, after all that frustration and disappointment, you get something that's decent and, masochist that you are, you think, 'OK, I'll suffer with this a little longer.'"  He eventually drifted away from infrared, but got back into the game when technology caught up with the format, with digital photography eliminating most of the headaches. When it came time to upgrade his equipment about three years ago, he replaced the low-pass filter in his digital SLR with a permanent infrared filter. Why? “Because something about infrared that speaks to me,” he says. The approach has an eerie effect in black-and-white photography, giving viewers blistering, eye-popping detail, sometimes on a surreal canvas, with leaves transformed plume-like on silvered branches and tree trunks. Or, as Barnard puts it, the images are like "an X-ray peering into the innermost life of Mother Nature ... allowing us to see more than we would with our naked eye." All of which you can see in "Beyond Our Vision," Barnard's new exhibit of infrared photography at the Firehouse.