Sunday, January 23, 2005

Johnny Carson is dead and Elvis Costello is on the radio

It's Sunday night. Almost eight. I'm listening to Elvis give an interview on KCRW while I type this and wait for Lisa, Mulan's weekend-babysitter, to bring Mulan home.

I did a matinee today. It was sold out, and the audience was a little quiet. But it's hard to tell if it went over well or not-so-well. I have found that an audience takes on a certain collective personality most of the time -- they seem to collude from 100 individuals into one strong personality -- or at least a few strong personalities. And this audience, today, their personality was rather reserved and on the quiet side. Which isn't bad -- after ten or more years doing this, I have come to realize that you can't completely tell how any individual will experience the show, even if they have a vocal response like the collected average. It's odd, and this is completely based on my anecdotal personal experience -- but I've done so many shows - some of them very quiet, some of them very boisterous, and I swear, you just can't tell what any given individual's response is. In a way, this knowledge is very comforting -- it means that after a very loudly appreciative show, you don't really know how many people silently disapproved, and then you also realize that after a quiet show, many people could have approved of it, in fact really liked the show. The interesting thing is, from my perspective, people tend to coalesce into a single response-mass, at least most of the time.

Which is why I often feel like I imagine a prostitute must feel when I'm on stage. Each audience is it's own personality, and I figure out in the first fifteen minutes what the deal is. "Oh you're an audience that likes this...and this...and not so much of this...but this, and then...oh yeah...THIS!"

In any case, if I am a prostitute, my audience today was like a Victorian widow, all full of propriety but willing to give themselves over...eventually. And when they do, it's powerful. My voice is really rough. I don't know what the deal is, but as soon as I started this show, my voice got really raggedy and rough, and I have had colds on and off and once I even lost my voice completely. And I'm not sure why this is. I don't know if it's because I don't have the time to recuperate from shows like I used to be able to, or what. I do have all kinds of mothering duties. For example, after Friday night's show, I couldn't sleep until 1:30 a.m., because I'm just so filled up with adrenaline from doing the show. And then at 7:00 a.m. Mulan was jumping on my head saying, "Mommy get up! Mommy get up!" And you know, I WANT to get up. I want to be with her, do things, start the day. But I felt so wiped out, and that deep phlemmy feel, like I could be getting sick., that feeling of -- if you sleep two more hours you can overcome it -- but you can't sleep two more hours. Anyway, here I am, probably sick again. And tired. And exhausted. AGH.

But still, I have to say, I am thrilled to perform each and every show. And I'm not just saying this because potential audience members might read this. I really honestly feel excited to perform each and every show. But let me tell you, I am wiped out afterwards. And now I'm considering going to New York where I would have to do eight shows a week. Wow. Wow. That's all I gotta say: wow.

I will probably know if we're taking the show to New York in the next month. I am basically pointing my ship towards this goal. It's just crazy how much a New York run will cost -- our budget is around $600k at the moment. And to give you perspective, this show here in L.A. cost about $60k for me to mount. And I just paid for it myself. And now, after five months and the show getting very good reviews and sold out houses, just now...I am earning my money back. I mean, it's been totally worth it, completely worth it in every possible way. But still, it's a risk and money and it's nothing compared to what the risk and money would be to take the show to New York. So, now we are starting the process of looking for investors and figuring out how long it will take to earn the money back and so forth. I would commit to a run in New York for about nine months. This is how long I would need to be there in order to make it lucrative enough, potentially, to attract investors. And this is all very exciting. I already have Mulan jazzed about going to school in New York, and I've found schools that look promising and all that. It's just...I could actually be earning more money in the short term by staying in Los Angeles, and working on other projects that might be less important for me, but more widely seen. So, it's a toss up. A constant internal battle. But at the end of the day, and here I am at the end of a day, I feel it's important and exciting and right -- just plain right, that I take the show to New York. And I actually think that it will be successful, even though I have only my own hunch to base this on. And I think the people who invest will be happy with their bet. But still, it means asking people to make bets on you, and that comes with all the obvious worry and thrill and concern.


Okay, now Mulan is home. Oh dear universe, how I love this little girl. How I worry for her, and care for her. I know, not any more than any parent does, I'm not trying to be especially precious about her, but jeez, she is truly the light of my life. I said to her, "I am a little sick, my voice is kind of gone right now and I'm sneezing a lot." And she actually said, "Was it hard to do your show today?" OHMYGAWD. Like an adult. She's like...empathic. Oh me oh my. It made me want to cry. First of all, just because she was thinking about me and my show in any way. And then, because I wish she wasn't so concerned because that seems wrong, that a five year old would even be aware that their parent worked in a way that might tax their voice -- it seems wrongly mature for her to ask me that. And then thirdly, I want to cry because she is the only person on the planet who could even ask me that question.

Okay. I'm being dramatic. My assistant, Pam, might ask me that question. But still. Mulan is five. That's pretty concerned and emotionally aware. And also, I have to remind myself that she is not always so compassionate. Yesterday, we took our dog, Arden, for a walk to Larchmont, and on the way home we ran into a neighbor. Someone I don't really know, but know of... and she said she had come to my Christmas show and seen Mulan sing "You better watch out..." and my neighbor said to Mulan, "You did a really good job!!" Mulan shrugged her shoulders non-appreciatively and said with a bored sigh, "Yeah..."

Her delivery of "yeah" was like "so..." Like, "So...what?"

It wasn't good. Not polite. Embarrassing to me, arrogant of her. We came home and had a talk about "tone." How when someone compliments you, you look them squarely in the eye and say, sincerely, "Thank you." You DO NOT SHRUG YOUR SHOULDERS AND SAY. "UH-HUH."

So, I guess I relate that to you so as to not make Mulan into a saint. Which makes me think about two weeks ago. A not-a-saint Mulan anecdote. I have a person who comes and cleans my house once a week. Her name is Margarita. She has come and cleaned my house once a week for about ten years. So...a long, long time. She is the most reliable person on the planet. I recently learned we were the same age, which threw me a little. I thought she was much older than me, and I felt embarrassed that we were the same age. Her working for me. Me employing her. It seemed wrong.

I have often thought that I could just clean my house myself. And believe me, do clean my house myself. I do tons, just keeping it in order. But once a week, I have Margarita come. And now she's become so much a part of my life, she's just a foundation to be honest. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, while it was raining, just pouring rain -- raining like no tomorrow, I offered her a ride home after she worked. She normally takes the bus, but I could see that it was going to be horrible to wait for the bus on a rainy day like this was. So, I went to get Mulan from school and then we came home and took Margarita to her house, or rather, her apartment, which is about three or four miles away. And it was raining so hard, so desperately hard, that the traffic was slow and there were pot holes, and cars stalled, and it felt like we were at the car wash every single block. And Mulan got impatient she she started to say, from her perch in the back seat -- sitting on her car seat -- she started to say, "Why are we taking Margarita home?" And I said, "Because it's raining so hard, darling, and Margarita would have to wait for the bus if we didn't drive her." And Mulan began to kick the seat, the back of the front seats with her shoes and she said, "I think we should have just let Margarita take the bus or walk home. This is taking too long! We could be at home right now if we weren't taking Margarita home!"

Oh! It was so embarrassing and so horrible and so wrong!!!

I said very little and then, after we dropped Margarita off, I was so angry with Mulan. I drove to the nearest gas station and pulled in and made Mulan get out of the car and stand, in her rain coat, in the actual...rain. Yes, I made my kid stand in the rain. And I got in the car. Yes, that's right. I got in my car and she stood outside the car in the rain. And she yelled, "Let me back in the car.'" I made her wait. It seemed like ten minutes, but it was probably only a few minutes. And then I let her back in and said, "How does it feel to wait in the pouring rain? How does that feel? Would you like to wait for the bus in the rain?"

As we drove home. I felt a little guilty about making Mulan wait outside the car in the rain. But then, I have to say, in the couple of weeks since this incident, she has really been much more observant of the plight of others. She's said, repeatedly, "if Margarita comes when it rains again, we will drive her home!" And then, tonight, she asked me if it was hard to do the show. I suppose compassion must be taught. Or at least I think it might have to be for most of us. So, here Mulan is -- a pretty, sort-of, at least for today, compassionate kid. Hmmmm....

Okay, here I have gone on and on about basically nothing at all. And not mentioned all the important stuff. Like how last weekend, I went to the James Randi conference, called The Amazing Meeting, which is held in Las Vegas, and I had the most wonderful time. And how I got to hang out with Richard Dawkins again (he came to my show a few weeks back) and Christopher Hitchens too! And it was all so mind blowing and fun and informative.

A real highlight of the conference was getting to see people who've become good friends, Hal Bidlack, James Hammond, Phil Plait, Jamy Ian Swiss and Penn Jilette. There was one mind-bogglingly fantastic moment when Jamy did some magic for Dawkins and the look on Dawkins face -- it was all so incomprehensible and, well, magic, and seemingly unexplainable by natural real-world methods, and it was just priceless. What a great moment that was. Jamy is positively supernatural. I always say he could rule the world with his super powers.


So here I am, in my kitchen, listening to Elvis Costello on the radio and thinking about Johnny Carson being dead. I always thought my dad was like Johnny Carson, which is something I imagine a lot of people might think about their dads. And him being dead, well, it 's another death, another blow, another erasure of someone I think of as familiar and lovable and not-quite knowable. Sometimes I am stunned as it's clear that characters from my life, big characters in my psyche, people who are stalwarts, are starting to die off. It's disconcerting.

Carson was a supporter of the work of James Randi -- I guess Carson gave Randi's education foundation $100,000 because he was so angry about John Edwards, the psychic spirit medium, bilking people of money based on obvious fraud. That made me like Carson even more than I already did. I also knew that he was an amateur astronomer, and that made me like him even more. And it was kind of cool how he just dropped out of Hollywood completely. I mean, it made me wonder if he just couldn't handle being a celebrity without a duty, a specific duty, like when he was a talk show host. But it also seemed so dignified and clean somehow. And since I knew he was interested in looking at the stars -- the real stars up in the sky, I felt comforted that he was doing what I hope I can do someday. Just sit and look up for a long, long time. Jeez, I wish I could have met Carson. I mean, just like everyone does.

I am reading Martin Rees' "Our Final Hour." I have had the book for a while, but a woman I met at a dinner party this week reminded me of it. And I started it and it's so alarming. I mean, I know much of this stuff already, but still, it's very alarming to have a person with the stature of Martin Rees say these things. The book is about our potentially certain dive into oblivion and societal collapse based on all kinds of terrible brewing developments, like terrorism, bio-terrorism, nuclear capabilities, over population. He gives us to 2040 or 2060 for a major, major wipe-out. Eeek. Anyway, when I read this book, I just want to move to Kauai and look at the stars. Oh, I just realized that I think I've said that a whole bunch of times in my blog already. And it's probably what everyone thinks about -- I'm sure everyone has their "kauai" they imagine themselves in. But still, I can tell that my next big enthusiasm is going to be astronomy. Sometimes I lament that I live in Los Angeles and I hardly ever get to see the night sky with any stars in it at all. When I do see stars, it's such a rare treat I cannot stop looking up. And then, I'm such an early-to-bed person that I'm usually falling asleep at the same time. Oh, I hope Johnny Carson got to look at the stars a good long while.

Elvis Costello is talking on the radio about the death of the big record companies and how people can just release their own stuff now and how the internet is going to redefine everything in music and how albums are almost obsolete -- no one listens to a whole album anymore. That's probably true. although I have to say, I listen to albums, whole albums all the time. In fact, this morning I listened to Rufus Wainwright's "Poses" all the way through beginning to end on my hike with Arden. (That's a great album by the way) But also, what Elvis is talking about excites me because I'm about to release, on my own, recordings of my last two shows. They will probably be ready in the next month, maybe even sooner. And I hope I can get them on audible and people can just download them. How cool is that? Ohmygoodness, sometimes I really love technology.

Okay, time to make Mulan practice violin. Boy, let me tell you, the violin is a hard instrument to make sound nice when you don't know what you're doing. But it's so beautiful, her little violin. And it's excruciating, making her play "Ten Little Indians" (are we supposed to be saying that? Ten little Native Americans doesn't fit the rhyme... Ten Little Sioux. Ten Little Spokane. Ten Little Shoshone. Maybe we shouldn't say "little" either. The song is about kids, so maybe "young" is better. One young, two young, three young Cherokees... Hmmm...) All right, forget it. We just have to get through the song twice before bedtime.


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