Friday, November 18, 2016

Re Re Re Revisiting THE BIG LEBOWSKI



L/R: Steve Buscemi, Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, John Tuturro, Sam Eliot


How can you help but revisit The Big Lebowski?  If you’re blessed (or afflicted), with the pseudo vastness of premium cable movie channels, you surely encounter this Coen Brothers film with the regularity of a Gesundheit.  And should you go beyond an entire two weeks without this film assuming control of your Smart TV’s remote – fear not!  It’s been segmented and uploaded to YouTube where you can repeatedly watch the film's penultimate episode; marked by John Goodman chewing–off Peter Stormare’s ear.

The Big Lebowski, like all Coen Brothers creations (and I believe I’ve seen them all), is eminently re-watchable.  Repeated viewings are not only individually rewarding (as well as inevitable), but probably the reason the film has achieved cult status.
The Coens (always sharing directing and writing duties), are quirky creators - sometimes misguidedly so.  But the brothers (even at their darkest, i.e., Blood Simple, No Country for Old Men), are highly inventive and naturally flowing humorists.  Nothing happens in their films by chance.  What may sometimes seem like frivolous filler, is actually organically motivated stuff and foundational to their story telling.

The Big Lebowski: is brilliantly cast and directed - but also driven by deceptively smart character and plot development.

Since their first films in the mid- 1980s, the Coen’s plot-credo has focused on every event – small or large – as somehow an inexorable interconnection between fate and human foibles.  The Coens are Jews from the Midwest, and at their core, seem to have a devotion to some divine spirt that insists (despite best efforts), man is only capable of producing consistent irony and the law of unintended consequences.

Plot:

"The Dude" Lebowski, mistaken for a millionaire Lebowski, seeks restitution for his ruined rug and enlists his bowling buddies to help get it. When approached for reimbursement, the “millionaire” instead enlists Dude to recover his kidnapped bride (at least 40 years his junior), and entrusts the dude with a valise full of money for the ransom payoff. 

But the ransom cash is stolen from the back seat of Dude’s (Jeff bridges) car. His closest bowling buddy Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), erroneously determines that the money was stolen by a 12 year old.  

Meanwhile, the crew of kidnappers (the “Nihilists”, actually a Germanic, punk band fronted by a former porno star and friend of the alleged kidnapped wife), have faked the kidnapping and are actually in cahoots with the millionaire Lebowski’s young wife.  But, she becomes bored with the entire scene, and goes back to her millionaire husband who, as it turns out, never provided any ransom cash to “The Dude” in the first place.

In between these events, the Dude’s apartment is inexplicitly trashed once again by the same thugs who first ruined his carpet and who refuse to believe he’s not the older millionaire Lebowski.  Two additional sub-plots include the Big Lebowski’s daughter, Maude (Julianne Moore), who counsels The Dude and ultimately uses him as an unwitting participant in the conception of her child. 

Some will find this plot either unconventionally flat, or then again, off the charts. In retrospect (and considering “The Dude’s” character attributes), the story feels like it’s being shaped under the influence.  Which is about right, as “The Dude”- even in middle age - is the ultimate stoner.  

The plot feels almost Seinfeldian in its diffusing of what should be major plot points. But at the end, there is no kidnapping, no ransom money, no theft of the ransom money – and no bowling tournament, which probably is the most important thing Dude, Walter and Donnie care about. Donnie (Steve Buscemi), a soft and thinly spoken bowling buddy, who essentially demurs and is just along for the ride, suffers a fatal heart attack when he, Dude and Walter are confronted by the three “Nihilists” demanding the nonexistent ransom money -  for the nonexistent kidnap victim settle for pocket money. But who  are then viciously (though comically), dispatched by Walter. Donnie’s understated death scene provides a quiet and contrasting irony compared to the misapplied blunder-bust of every other character.

Characters: The Dude and Walter Sobchak

“The Dude” is several decibels below passive-aggressive and favors most any path of least resistance.  He enjoys not working, frequent pot usage and poceses an uncanny ability to find himself in most any environment capable of supplying White Russians (an amusing running gag, throughout).
Jeff Bridges owns"The Dude" (Almost as much as "The Dude" now owns him).
 But throughout the film, his sole objective is the replacement and repair of his ruined Oriental rug. Everything else is a highly vexing inconvenient impediment to that end.
Underachieving is the Dude’s philosophy of life. He has long ago adopted a “get along-go along” point-of-view.  Even when threatened in the parking lot of his favorite bowling alley, he’s happy to offer the Three Nihilists (alleged kidnappers), four dollars in lieu of a multi-million dollar ransom payday.

Walter, on the other hand is not only all-in, but grossly over-committed. A veteran of Vietnam, his experience and gung-ho patriotism informs every point-of-view and every emotion.  When descending upon the home of a recalcitrant 12-year-old who refuses to confess to stealing the ransom money (which he didn’t), Walter decides the kid has used his ill-gotten gains to buy a flashy, red sports car  parked in front of his parent’s home (which he hasn’t), and impulsively pulverizes the vehicle with a wooden baseball bat. An act of vengeance interrupted by the kid’s next door neighbor who reciprocates by bashing the Dude’s dilapidated wreck of a car.

This scene is preceded by the Dude insisting Walter join him for the kid’s interrogation about the ‘stolen’ ransom money. Walter angrily protests leaving his house as it’s the beginning of Shabbat.

“Hey man, you’re not even Jewish. You’re Polish Catholic, or something”, the Dude annoyingly points out
Walter, remembering his Jewish, ex-wife, is incensed. “Listen, you just don’t stop being something!”

The film’s one big catharsis (at least for Walter), occurs when Walter aggressively defends the Dude, Donnie – and all things American – against the three Nihilists.  The parking lot of their bowling alley as his battlefield, Walter becomes the aggressor, pitching his bowling ball into the chest of one attacker, knocking unconscious another, and biting the ear off the leader.

The Big Lebowski may at first seem convoluted entertainment. But ultimately, it’s a film whose repeated viewing provokes more thoughts – and new laughs.





Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Circus Vibes - from "Scenes without Words"


"Circus Vibes" on YouTube.

I've always loved chamber music and wouldn't dream of passing up an opportunity to write for the classic ensembles.

"Scenes without Words" is about four descriptive pieces for three instruments -  each one named after something popular, or at least theatrical, the exception being "Carl Churning Rides Again".  (Please don't ask.  I can't even fully explain the reference. It's title seemed right, yet impulsive - but nonetheless intuitive.  Whatever..)

 The 3rd piece"A Homage Nina Simone" has been premiered via YouTube with visuals I selected and edited.  Consequently, its title is self-evident.

So too with "Circus Vibes" (no. 1), which found its title when I realized one of the early themes resembled "Entry of the Gladiators" (also known as "Thunder and Blazes").

Once again, the performers are:
Performers:

Piano: Warren Helms
Violin: Amy Hamilton-Soto
Cello: Amy Butler Visscher

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Homage Nina Simone



  A Homage Nina Simone


video


"a Homage Nina Simone" is the third of four chamber pieces I've written, grouped under the title "Scenes without Words". Others pieces include  1. "Circus Vibes", 2. "Dickens and Nelly" and 4. "Carl Churning Rides Again".

"Homage" was titled after I had begun its composition, inspired by the versatility of Nina Simone, the African American artist and civil rights activist. She began her musical life as a classical pianist and singer of church gospel music, followed by folk, blues, and  later jazz and popular music

The work attempts to suggest that sense of eclecticism.


Performers:


Piano: Warren Helms
Violin: Amy Hamilton-Soto
Cello: Amy Butler Visscher
https://youtu.be/RXsrsmbR5Qo


I can be contacted at Charlie@charlesgreenbergmusic.com

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Five Categorical Reasons Why Wrong Notes Occur in Piano Recitals.

 
While sharing a few beers with my buddy Louis C. Monteverdi  a couple of weeks ago, we started (somewhat ruefully), discussing the phenomena of wrong notes in classical piano playing.  

Now, please keep in mind, we’re discussing the great classical piano repertoire - by and of the masters.  Perfect, peerless, and at times, ludicrously difficult stuff that is nonetheless, very well-known and highly well-thought of. 

“Very well known” despite decades– nay centuries!- of tumultuously tortured renditions. As the night wore on,  Louis and I formulated that each and every great piece is itself accompanied in a parallel universe, a meta-layer, a Superman Bizzaro World, if you will – by its wrong-note doppelganger; a desperate twin of perfectly formulated wrong notes.  

Why does this have to happen?  Do we need background checks before the average Joe can even purchase a piano?  But given the Jerry Lee lewis factor, maybe it’s just a question of better securing the printed music.

But I digress.  Somewhere between the Tequilas and the Buffalo-Wings, Louis and I ultimately came up with Five Categorical Reasons Why Wrong Notes Occur in Piano Recitals. (By the way, to make things sporting, we decided to exclude rampant performance nerves and memory lapses).

  1.  “The Flub!  The flub is the fart-in-church, so to speak. It’s unpredictable and indiscriminate.  The greatest pianists know it well- and the much lesser ones could give a flying flub. In other words, “flubs happen”. 
  2. The Learned Wrong Note” This doesn’t happen on the fly (as with “The Flub”). This is much more organic, attributable to poor training and a potentially lethal build-up of ear wax.  “Can’t you hear that’s wrong?”, the pianist coach might say.  But then there are very early recordings of “great” pianists who evidently adopted wrong notes as part of their own unique styles and interpretations.  Not to call anyone out in particular, but check out the first decade of 20th century piano recordings (or rolls) of Vladimir de Pachmann.
  3. "The Risk Taker” Yes, not all tempos are created equal. You were all set to perform Chopin’s  Ballad in G minor, ‘all set’ that is, until you decided you would kick butt in the coda by bombastically and exponentially making it so fast you finally wished they had prematurely closed  the curtains and turned off the lights.  Aww, and it was your last piece on the program!  Well, there goes your encore of that sweet little – and oh so much easier - Schubert, Moments Musicaux.
  4. "The Technically Outmatched” The cliché is, “don’t bring a knife to a gun fight”.  And then there’s” 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.  But if the masterwork is a heavy weight- and you’re a welter weight- then it’s best to wait- and come fight another day.
  5. “Out-of-Focus” No, this is not about memory lapses.  This is about your parents, your significant other, or the old geezer who dozed off – all sitting in the first row.  And don’t forget the cell phone lady who’s really distracting you.  I mean, for god’s sake!  You’re trying to barrel through the piano transcription of Stravinsky’s” Petrushka’ and she’s playing Words with Friends.  Damn, there goes another marred dissonance!

You really suck, cellphone lady.  You really suck!



Monday, November 30, 2015

Trump is GOP's Cosmic Comeuppance



Donald Trump, whose unbelievably well attended campaign stops have morphed into his own brand of group therapy (How wonderful am I? C’mon, everyone, count the ways!), is dangerously close to becoming the Republican presidential nominee, handily losing the general election to Hilary Clinton and giving the GOP a richly deserved, cosmic comeuppance.


And I say this at the risk of Trump turning my neighborhood into a Scottish golf course.

Finally  - Trump’s primary opponents, who have long since known better (which still excludes a few), are tepidly stepping up to the political plate and hitting back some carelessly pitched soft balls Trump has let fly about Muslim  national registries and  9/11 fantasy celebrations.   

Well, good for them.

But you still have to wonder where any of these people were in 2012 when Trump decided (as a potential GOP presidential candidate), it was in his best political interests to go after the Muslim-in-Chief. 

A validated Hawaiian birth certificate?  A verified certificate of live birth?  No credible evidence to prove Obama was born in Kenya?  “I’m prepared to take the president at his word”, John Boehner magnanimously intoned, helping to propagate a talking-point that would side-step the question, keep the right-wing base delusionally happy, and enable fellow Republicans to commit a sin of omission in order to maintain a perceived political advantage.   

Let’s be clear, if  there ever was a remote chance Obama is not a U.S. citizen, and an illegal occupant of the White House, the Republican congress would have relentlessly investigated, impeached and then double-dared President Joe Biden to pardon the disgraced, ex-president in order to avoid excessive jail time.  And they would have been right to do so.  

That’s what so galling about Trump’s superficial and self-serving exploitation of an explosive, constitutional crisis. 

In fairness to Trump (and you have to “treat” Trump “fairly” lest he run a third-party candidacy), he did not originate birtherism  or the birther movement.  

And yet, even though he thoroughly discredited himself four years ago from being taken seriously as a presidential candidate today- here he is again.  This time, however, instead of Obama who was more than his match, he’s putting  his reckless and hateful hands around every minority group that might enable his campaign  For Trump, brown is the new black.

In 2012, the GOP enabled Trump by not calling him out on the bizarre,  birther nonsense.  2016 is their chance to make amends and save their political hides.  

Unless, of course, they prefer to watch the next Democratic administration from outside that “great big, beautiful wall”.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Romance and Scandal of Dickens & Nelly



Dickens & Nelly, a New Musical. 
 Books/lyrics by Barbara Zinn Krieger; music by Charlie Greenberg





 In 1858, Charles Dickens’ affair with Nelly Ternan, (the actress more than 25 years his junior), had become public enough to compel Dickens to publish a denial:  

I most solemnly declare, then -- and this I do both in my own name and in my wife's name -- that all the lately whispered rumors touching the trouble, at which I have glanced, are abominably false. And whosoever repeats one of them after this denial, will lie as willfully and as foully as it is possible for any false witness to lie, before heaven and earth".

In the new musical “Dickens & Nelly”, this spirited defense of Dickens’ integrity and Nelly’s virtue is dramatized during a confrontation in London’s Anatheum Club.  Having mocked Dickens for trying to hide his affair, authors, including hypocritical Willkie Collins (“I do as I please with both my women”), Anthony Trollope, George Wills and William Makepeace Thackeray are excoriated by an enraged Dickens.  Dickens’ words soar in a new musical theater piece that understands there’s rarely as much heated and continuous passion as there is in an illicit love affair.

Dickens is a control freak.  He orchestrates the affair through selective confidants and a mastering of train schedules. Exploiting his prodigious fame, charm, and the vacuum created by an absent father figure, he seductively isolates Nelly (the youngest of three sisters in a theatrical family), from her siblings and mother.  To protect his reputation, he surreptitiously moves Nelly from location to location over a period of 13 years, adopting an alias for them both.   

But, Dickens loses control.  His wife discovers the affair, Nelly becomes pregnant, and the train crashes - with both Dickens and Nelly onboard.

Ultimately, Nelly rejects victimization and reinvents herself, while never compromising her past love for Dickens.  In fact, she is a survivor of a love affair that didn’t publicly begin to see the light of day till the mid 1930s – 20 years after her death.

Dickens & Nelly will receive a staged reading under the musical direction of Warren Helms

Location: Black Box Theater @ William Paterson University in New Jersey.
Date: Sunday, April 19th @6:00PM
Admission: Free  


Thursday, January 29, 2015

5 Tips for Overcoming those Pesky Piano Performance Anxieties



This is a guest blog by the less than legendary, Louis C. Monteverdi
http://charlie-greenberg.blogspot.com/2011/06/confessions-of-louis-c-monteverdi.html


As a pianist performing regularly in front of live audiences (well, at least they claim to be), I still struggle with hand jitters, wrong notes, inaccurate rhythms and sudden sonorities of unknown origin. 

While I know of no real remedies or telethon-type activities related to alleviating this aggravating affliction of unaccountable nerves, I can offer the following five tips in the hope that they may prove useful in times of classical piano’s annoying nuances. 

  • TIP #1: Come Early Before the performance


Avoid increasing your stress level by leaving sufficient time for a preparatory period of relaxation. Relax, compose your thoughts and slowly exercise your fingers with unrelated abstract, technical studies till you have achieved a certain comfortable level of digital dexterity.  

  •  TIP #2: Completely Ignore Tip #1


Don’t come early, fool!  That will only make you even more uptight by creating a misguided sense of importance about the whole stuffy business. Better to come a little late. Have a couple of smokes, a couple of beers.  Too bad, if people get pissed off and decide to leave because it’s already 8:15PM.  Screw ‘em!  Keep repeating to yourself “Screw ‘em. It’s just not that important”.  Relax; the whole thing’s just this side of being a complete waste of everybody’s time. 

  •  TIP #3:  Disrespect the Composer.  Does he think he’s better than you!!? 


 Screw Beethoven, the ugly son-of-a-bitch. Clearly, the guy was never successful enough to afford a facial or get a decent haircut. What’s that, lady, I was hitting wrong notes?  What do you expect, the guy was frickin’ deaf when he wrote this damn thing!  Give me a break!

  • TIP #4: Make Sure the Piano is in an acceptable  State of Disrepair


Sure I’m nervous.  Wouldn’t you be if you had to perform on this reject from a down-market Salvation Army post?  I mean, I might have warmed up, but I ran out of time while I was Gorilla Gluing  all the broken keys back on, for cryin’ out loud!

  • TIP #5   Just Go Play Cocktail Piano


Find a restaurant with a big room full of noisy people whose voices bounce off a carpet-less, slate floor, utterly drowning out the sound of your dwarf baby-grand with zero amplification. All that’s missing is a black cape and hood - and a Lone Ranger mask.  Then you can be nervous all you want.