Friday, February 11, 2011

more sesame street, less burning man

I think Robbie Q. Telfer has a kindred spirit in Reggie Watts, whom AK and I and our sisters saw open for Garfunkel & Oates at Largo last night. I mean, they’re totally different—Robbie Q. is a spoken word guy and Reggie Watts is an all-kinds-of-sounds guy, but they both defy categorization (though I realize I just categorized them) and get me thinking about what performance can be.

Watts is a beat-boxer, looping machine guru, singer, piano player and comedian. I can’t begin to describe how he blends all of those talents, but he does, seamlessly yet schizophrenically. One minute he sounds like an old soul musician, the next he’s giving a nonsensical report on “tech futures” in a nerdy executive voice. He uses every part of his body, from his voice box to his doughy hips to his massive Afro and, well, is there such thing as a beard-fro? His hair shakes goofily, and at one point he seemed to be able to move it in slow motion.

My sister leaned over and said, “I keep thinking of Sesame Street. He looks and moves like a Muppet, of course, but he also reminds me of the seventies.”

He was wearing sweater with a golf tableau on it.

Part of the goal of my circus-novel-in-progress is to capture the alchemical magic that performance works on both audience and performer. I’m trying to capture it in words, the opposite of performance, so maybe it’s a doomed mission. My characters are dancers and acrobats and politically oriented thespians—no beat-boxers among them—but some of them went to art school, and I do want them to have a taste for the experimental. Seeing people like Robbie Q. Telfer and Reggie Watts—not to mention the less out-there but incredibly funny and talented Garfunkel & Oates—makes me think I’m not being imaginative enough.

In my novel, an L.A. Weekly reviewer describes my circus’ aesthetic as “Burning Man burlesque,” which they’re a little insulted by. Writing about artists always runs the risk of being an exercise in navel-gazery, so I don’t want them to be total geniuses who get angsty blocks only to hit it out of the park later, but I do want them to be genuinely creative. I want them to find the sweet spot. So how can they, and I, get beyond Burning Man burlesque?


Rachel Hamilton said...

super interesting direction. I have been thinking about the effect of live music/performance on people ever since I overheard a conversation in the packed women's bathroom of a club a few weeks back. A woman says to another, "My mom doesn't realize that live music always has that effect on people. She hardly ever goes to shows." I think about this sometimes when I am listening to the band in my church. How is worship in a church the same or different from a live concert at a non-religious venue. I have heard that a U2 concert can feel like church. Michael Jackson's This is It movie had a scene like that. I look forward to your solutions on this quandary.

Cheryl said...

Both artistic experiences and church are about empathy and communication, which (for me at least) are spiritual endeavors. And music works on such a biological level that I think it's one of the most powerful examples of this collective spirit. Of course, spirituality is totally subjective: One person's path to enlightenment is another person's crappy band. (Certainly not everyone gets why I think Stephen Sondheim is a prophet.) As for solutions? I got none. :-)