The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, That I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary. Isaiah 50:4
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The Little Wretches: News

My Father's Monologue on Thanksgiving - January 28, 2018

Early in my college days, I used a manual typewriter. I'd compose a cover-letter and type two copies of my most recent poem, fold them, stick them in an envelope, lick a stamp, and mail my creation to the editor or publisher of some small magazine in the hope that I'd be published.

I was published with sufficient frequency that I kept at it, though all I ever really wanted to do was play in a band. I wrote poetry because it was a solitary activity, and I was good at being alone.

"My Father's Monologue on Thanksgiving" caught the attention of a visual artist who created a limited-edition of a poster-sized image including this poem. I think the artist's name was Harry Polkinhorn.

Anyhow, I used to have an auditory memory as good as a tape-machine. I'd eavesdrop on conversations and transcribe them verbatim in my little notebooks, then take the "found" words and whittle them into something resembling poetry.

"My Father's Monologue on Thanksgiving" was, in fact, the product of my father's babbling. He'd sit at the kitchen table and talk to himself. The words of the poem are his. The refrain of the song is mine. And the narrative that precedes the song/poem is a composite of actual events.

More than one person who knew my dad told me he was the toughest person they ever knew.

I hope this piece honors him. 

I promised myself that I would post one video per week from Red Beets & Horseradish. Let me know what you think.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZLehEHR_YE&feature=youtu.be

RED BEETS & HORSERADISH a song-cycle - January 22, 2018

About the Title

In many cultures of Eastern Europe, a concoction of red beets and horseradish is served as a relish or side-dish, usually on the holidays of Easter or Passover. The red of the beets is symbolic of the blood of our people, and the horseradish the bitterness of their suffering. The symbolism morphs in the Christian tradition to the blood of our savior and the bitterness of His suffering. People in the Jewish tradition also enjoy the dish, but there is no blood involved—the beets are merely for flavor—but the dish preserves the memory of bitter suffering. 

 

The songs and stories of “Red Beets and Horseradish” are set in the cities and towns of America where people of Eastern Europe settled, only to outlive the industries and opportunities that originally attracted them. There is a little bit of blood, a considerable portion of suffering, but as long as we can tell our story, we can claim victory. The fact that you couldn’t kill us if proof that WE won.

 

 

Staging, Characters and Chronology

Each piece in the cycle consists of the pairing of an oral story and a song. The stories can be presented as monologue or broken into dialogue at the discretion of the players. The songs may be presented by the characters, or there may be a separate singing group.

 

The cycle need not be presented in its entirety, as each of the song-and-story pairings can stand alone. Likewise, the chronology and grouping of the pieces is arbitrary.

 

Ideally, the performance opens with WINTER’S GRACE, closes with IT’S ALL BETWEEN ME AND GOD and is augmented by a visual presentation of slides depicting the various stages of ethnic working class life. The pieces that fall between should be seen as a repertoire and selected based on feel—dark or light, quick or slow, humorous or somber. The whole point is to be as conversational and intimate as possible, sensitive to the feel of the moment and the receptivity of the audience. Tell the stories that feel like they need to be told. Play it how you feel it.

 

 

Characters:

The content of the stories implies that the words are spoken by the working class descendants of immigrants from Eastern Europe, and they are speaking from experience, most likely long-term and ongoing experience.

 

In some of the pieces, the gender of the speaker is suggested by the pronouns and references to child-bearing. Otherwise, the gender of the characters is somewhat irrelevant and left to the discretion of the players. 

 

Likewise, once a person becomes a parent, time stands still till the children move out, and the working life freezes the passage of time till death or retirement. Thus, the ages of the characters are arbitrary.

 

 

 

Setting:

These stories are heard anywhere working class people find themselves shooting their mouths off about what they’ve seen and known. If necessary, the pieces can be presented in a black box. Variable and random settings may include:

 

 

Backyard picnic bench. Coffee can for ashtray. Small, portable cooler containing two-liter bottles of Mountain Dew and Diet Coke, a six pack of Iron City Beer, and a fifth of cheap whiskey in a paper bag.

 

 

Side porch of a funeral parlor. Wrought-iron railing. Potted-plant used as an ashtray. Empty cone-shaped paper cups hanging on the plant and railing like ornaments. 

 

 

Front stoop or stairs and sidewalk in front of house. Noise of children playing and passing cars. Coke can as an ashtray. Plastic one-gallon jug of water.

 

 

Sitting on the hood of car with a flat tire in a convenience store parking lot, awaiting the arrival of AAA. Car jack. Crowbar. Four-way lug wrench. Deflated spare-tire.

 

 

Cluttered kitchen table, deck of cards, playing Solitaire. There could be an open-fold record album with stems and seeds and rolling papers. There could be a mirror with a razor blade and straw. Coffee mugs. Beer mugs. Old mail. Newspapers.

 

 

A seat on an otherwise abandoned trolley car, swaying side to side, jerking to stops and starts, occasional screeching of brakes.

 

 

Plexiglass bus shelter with wooden bench. Artless graffiti. A newspaper weighted by an abandoned styrofoam cup of coffee.  

 

 

Tailgate of a pickup truck in the parking lot of a stadium before or after a sporting event. Portable canopy. Folding chairs. Multiple coolers. Grill. Bean bag toss. Portable table with buns, condiments, paper plates and napkins. 

 

 

The adult table after a holiday family gathering. Carcass of a turkey. Carcass of a ham.

Serving bowls and spoons. Used dishes, tableware and napkins. Bottle of Mogen David wine. Fifth of Old Crow Whiskey. Bottle of Canada Dry ginger ale. 

 

 

Abandoned basketball court with weeds growing up through the cracks. Bent rim without a net on a rusted backboard. Deflated ball. Empty and broken 40-ounce bottles and plastic cups. Vine-covered chain link fence. 

 

 

OVERTURE—Musical Theme: It’s All Between Me and God

 

The stage is dark and silent. 

 

The audience sees a triptych of slide show images above or behind the stage, a mix of black and white and color, a mix of natural photos and those that have been highly retouched and processed for color saturation and contrast. In column one, we see images of the Catholic rites of infant baptism and first holy communion, baby pictures, school portraits, first-birthday pictures and so on. In column two, we see wedding photos, dating photos, young men in military uniforms and young parents with small children interspersed with images of American towns in their industrial heyday. In column three, we see images of old age, funerals, grave-markers, prayer cards, figurines of saints, multigenerational family portraits, and so on, interspersed with images of abandoned and rusted factories, mills, and industrial sites, and images of poverty in the form of littered yards, boarded windows, graffiti, etc. The images change randomly, no two slides changing at the same time.

 

The audience hears the musical theme from “It’s All Between Me and God.”  

 

Stage lights fade in. Character or characters enter, look out and examine the audience, look up and examine the projected images. The images freeze when the narrator begins to speak.


Some Days the Best I Can Do Is Clear a Path for Light - January 13, 2018

I promised to try to post one new piece from Red Beets & Horseradish every week.

This week, I put together something for Winter's Grace, the opening piece in the song-cycle. I first encountered the poem that forms the foundation of the lyric when I wandered into Hemingway's on the University of Pittsburgh campus, and there was a poetry reading in the back room. Annette Dietz read, and when I praised the poem, she immediately gave me her copy. 

I really wanted to set it to music, but the idea didn't come together till I learned of the passing of Brian Longo. Funny thing, as I was returning to work on the website, I saw that there previously had been a comments page, and there was an exceedingly kind comment posted by Brian Longo back in 2010. I hope this piece does not come across as exploitative. Before Brian passed, he sent me a CD of some of his noise-music recordings, and he'd given me a call, maybe to say thank you and goodbye. I hope this piece honors Brian.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE share this and forward it to people who might appreciate it.

 

Trying to Get This Show on Stage - January 7, 2018

On the VIDEOS portion of this website, I recently put links to recently posted youtube videos related to the song-cycle, Red Beets & Horseradish. My goal is to get at least one video up per week, then go back to tweak and revise them. I have no skill as a visual artist or graphic designer, but if I can sketch this stuff out, maybe somebody with talent will come along and say, "I can do something with that, just send me the files."

     Back in Western Pennsylvania, Dave and Ellen are still working on music, and I try to get together with them when I'm in the area...but it's tough. I usually visit during holidays when people are busy and preoccupied with obligations. It seems like Ellen has been pretty prolific. Dave has been playing with his son. The four of us played in a chicken coop last summer. There was a big sign, "Chicken Coop MotherCluckers." We mostly played covers.

     It's fun to play covers, and you learn a lot about music, arranging, song-structure, and so on when you play covers. It's gotten to the point that I'd rather hear a good cover band than most original bands because most original bands have mediocre songs.

     Also, I've been seeing a lot of Gregg Bielski. Gregg is the most amazingly prolific and positive artist I've ever met, and it is an inspiration to hang out with him. Easy Bake Oven. Ex->Tension. He's doing noise stuff, spoken word stuff, and he's been on stage more in the past year than the past 20 years combined.

     Out in the Philly-area, I've been playing with Mike Michalski in a band called CEREBELLES. We play some Honeyburst songs and some Little Wretches' songs, but we're mostly relegated to playing dive bars to audiences that consist of the members of other bands. 

     My main focus right now is this RED BEETS & HORSERADISH stuff. Stay tuned, and I'll try to deliver.

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