09 April 2007

Short, Short, Long

Does anyone know where to buy buttons in this city? Other than Tender Buttons, which is, yes, five minutes from my apartment, but also looks to be mighty pricey. I’m almost ready to go to my mom’s house and borrow her car to drive to the local JoAnn’s.

* * *

This is insane. Joshua Bell, one of the best classical violinists in the world, busked for an hour in a DC Metro station. And almost no one stopped to listen. I don’t think I’m wrong in thinking that the outcome would’ve been different in New York, but that’s just the influence of those fucking dance troupes blocking all the pathways in Grand Central.

(h/t Rusty.)

* * *

I don’t remember where, whether it was in context of “The Riches” (so disappointing) or A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (so disappointing that I never got to see it), but I remember that someone wrote about Eddie Izzard that what makes him so brilliant at stand-up, and what makes him a great actor in addition to a great stand-up comedian, because the transfer of brilliance is not always there, is the illusion of spontaneity. He’s also a compelling performer and, you know, really fucking funny, which helps, too.

That idea came back to me Friday night while I was watching John Fugelsang perform his one man show, All the Wrong Reasons, at New York Theatre Workshop. You may remember Fugelsang from “America’s Funniest Home Videos” with Daisy Fuentes, or frequent appearances (I’m told) on whatever show Bill Maher used to have, or, if you’re around my age, you might have no idea where you remember him from, but when NYTW announced that they were replacing Another Artsy Show Performed in a Foreign Language (I love them, but wtf?) with John Fugelsang’s solo show, you went “John Fugelsang? At New York Theatre Workshop? For reals??” It just felt silly, and strange, and appealing.

Silly and strange and appealing – this would be a very neat transition if I could say “much like Fugelsang himself!” He’s not unappealing, and not not strange, but I’ll go back to my Eddie Izzard thing from before. I found myself thinking about Eddie Izzard’s skill as a performer because, sadly, John Fugelsang, though funny and smart and a good writer, didn’t strike me as an amazing performer. It’s not just how often he spoke from an awkward riding-a-surfboard lunge, or how his characterizations of his parents and girlfriend were a little too facile – it’s that spontaneity, the ineffable thing that makes a performance compelling and captivating and great.

I realize I’ve gone completely ass-backwards and started off with the negatives, which makes it seem like there’s nothing good to say about Fugelsang or his show. Far from it. John Fugelsang is really, really funny. A couple of the jokes merited a mimed rimshot (for James’ benefit) in my lap, but a good lot of them got earnest, conspicuously loud laughs. I may have been wishing that he were a David Sedaris-style writer rather than a man on a theatre stage at the moment, but I wasn’t having a bad time. All the Wrong Reasons is subtitled “A True Story of Neo-Nazis, Drug Smuggling and Undying Love”, but it’s really a story about Fugelsang’s family – his parents, and his girlfriend. The drug-smuggling feels pretty central (and, for a wuss like me, made for a very gripping story). The Neo-Nazis, not so much. But it’s still really funny and engaging – my mind only wandered inasmuch as I was trying to compose this while watching the show, never the sort of “what’s for dinner, how are we getting home, is it over yet, please got is it over” mind wandering that bad theatre induces. In fact, much of my wishing Fugelsang were a better performer came from how much I was enjoying the material – I either wanted someone better to inhabit it, or I wanted it stripped down, in an NPR podcast (full weekend of auditory bliss) or some sort of essay. But, again, not to end on a negative and thus seem to have disliked the show more than I did – it’s really, really funny. Cheap tickets are available several ways:

*All tickets for all Sunday evening performances (7pm) are $20. I love that NYTW does this. You can buy them in advance, but you have to buy them in cash at the box office (79 E4th St).

*Student tickets are $20 for all performances, also in person at the box office.

*For everyone else, non-students and people who don't see theatre on Sundays, you can use code AWNYTW6 to get $35 tickets. You can buy these online or on the phone (212.947.8844) or, like the other tickets, in person.

(I really did spend a lot of time this weekend listening to NPR podcasts. I’ve never been an NPR snob – I grew up listening to WCBS 880, the newsradio equivalent of local news – but an hour of “This American Life” makes all the leg lifts that are somehow going to help my tendinitis almost not hateful. All the NPR podcasts are free, and I strongly recommend.)


Mark said...

I hate this "gotcha" stunt with the violinist, which is a classist attempt to make working people look uncultured. Most people who are taking public transport are trying to get somewhere in a hurry, dealing with delays and powering through crowds of people. Yo-Yo Ma himself could be performing and it wouldn't change the fact that workers need to get to their job on time and don't have a lot of time to stop and do much of anything on the way there. The whole thing is snobby, condescending bullshit.

Jaime said...

Here we go being blogversaries again, but I didn't take it that way at all. Maybe because as I read it, I was picturing New Yorkers (and tourists here) stopping for so many different kinds of subway station performers, from hip-hop dancers to a man playing an erhu. I also think Joshua Bell's reaction to being ignored doesn't privilege classical music at all. I don't think it mattered that he was a classical musician, just that he's a virtuoso. Béla Fleck could've gone down there with a banjo for what I think would've been the same effect.

Mark said...

The part of the article that made sense to me was this part:

"Optimal," Guyer said, "doesn't mean heading to work, focusing on your report to the boss, maybe your shoes don't fit right."

Kevin Drum had a similar reaction here. My problem with the whole framing of this is that it doesn't go into why these people might not have been able to take an interest in this music. Because consumer culture surrounds them with lowest common denominator crap? Maybe, but more to the point, the majority of them are focused on getting through their day to day lives without missing a beat or it will cost them. To briefly touch on another blogosphere topic of today, most of us are under the boot of various entities during the day and literally can't afford, in an economic sense, to miss a step to hang out in the Subway. But the implication that we're the uncultured rabble because we're not part of the leisure class is both lazy and bothersome.

[I don't think we're blogversaries, by the way, unless that word means people that talk about stuff that's going on, in which case we both have lots of blogversaries. I think you're swell.]

Rocco said...

Yeah, that's pretty much how I felt about ATWR. I had a great time watching it, but its no great piece of theatre. I was in a great mood when I saw it too, so that probably helped.

anna said...

salon audiofile sides with mark, and i pretty much do to. many buskers are hugely talented, and people got to get to work. rushing through a loud station, i doubt i could tell a virtuoso from a fine player. besides, the article was remarkably obnoxious.

that aside, EDDIE. i read that "the riches" was going to be a huge disappointment, so i averted my eyes. how bad is it? "a day in the death of joe egg" blew my mind (?! a show i show that you didn't? bizarre.) truly great solo performers are a rare and fearless breed and should be praised to the skies.

i have you on my google reader now so i won't have to play catch up every month or so!

Floyd said...

Have you tried the button palace on 28th near the Mcdonalds?

Moxie said...

There's a stretch of bead and button shops on Broadway, possibly near the one floyd mentioned. I think they're in the upper 20's, and are lots of fun if you have crafty aspirations like me.

Jaime said...

I don't havr crafty aspirations, other than a lust for subversive cross-stitch, just new-buttons-for-my-coat aspirations, but that neighborhood sounds like a good bet.

Rich said...

Atomic Passion
Neighborhood: Manhattan/East Village

430 E 9th St
New York, NY 10009

This place (or someplace near on 9th) has some cool, cheap buttons.

As for Josh Bell- American culture seems more interested in the material than the aesthetic, even in New York. And classical music works better live than recorded- it's the medium as much as anything. When hi-def video and sound catch up to the nuances that classical can handle, maybe there will be a resurgence...