Day 6: Subterfuge – Lily

In every love affair, no matter how lofty or diseased, there comes a time for subterfuge. What does this mean? My dictionary defines subterfuge as: 1. a statement or action resorted to in order to avoid blame or defeat; 2. a place to which a person escapes, a retreat, a refuge; 3. a thing which provides concealment, a cloak.

But isn’t love supposed to be transparent, all-revealing? Aren’t secrets to be avoided at all costs? My experience begs to differ. I’m not talking giant gaping secrets that rupture the foundation on which lovers stand. I’m talking tiny rebellions that sprout at one’s feet like errant dandelions or pop up in dreams as unruly fantasies, too vital to be puffed away into oblivion. These are the gems that one can channel into dance, poetry, music – covert arts in which the obscene serves us, obscurely, without obstructing our ability to coincide.

Of course, subterfuge can also be a call to action. . .



Day 5: Ecstasy – Rhododendron

Why does ecstasy fill us up and deplete us in succession? We can never get enough, so we go to our chosen church saying: I’m afraid I’ll come to nothing, is it necessary to be reborn again and again? I just need someone to embrace me in my contradictions and my complications, someone to compliment me, someone to complement the perfection that constantly confounds me.

The sensuality of the word rhododendron first occurred to me when I used it for Vlodoya’s speech in A Warehouse Dream, the way it rolled melodiously off Vlodoya’s tongue. Years later I wrote a love song on my lunch break to this same species. What does it imply to sing, “you are the flower with the almighty power! I don’t mind a spring shower, we’ll spend hour after hour. . .” ?  The craving for communion springs eternal.

Day 4: Infatuation – Cup of Coffee


As a child, I once visited my dad’s friend’s family. I think there were three kids and in the basement the man had carved out a workspace for each child out of wood and chicken wire. That image stayed with me which is perhaps why as an adult warehouse life resonated with me! The notion of being secure in one’s own creative world and yet surrounded and stimulated by other creative humans is an artist’s dream!

This song, written two decades ago, has several layers: it’s about having a surprise crush; it’s also about the joys of collaboration – finding the best friend or soul mate or killer roommate whose box of tricks has a keyhole in which your key, the one you’ve worn around your neck all these years, turns easily. Inside the box are photographs, you take one back to your desk and gazing at it, begin your story, which turns into the story of Us. . .

Day 3: Flirtation – lily rap

Here’s an admission: I may be a bit of a wallflower, but my little red journals are chock full of flirtation. I always thank my lucky stars for writing. Something about those scribbly vowels and stretchy consonants, sprinkled through with spry commas and peppery periods, that makes me feel, well, flirtatious. I guess you could call it my guilty pleasure.

Wordplay, unlike much foreplay, is so portable. And who can deny the thrill of saying “now I’m drinkin’ all this lilac wine with an urchin slurpin’ turpentine, you know you’re never gonna be my valentine!” C’mon, you know you wanna. . .


Day One: Ideal Love – Helicopter

The geneses of this song: a community theater rehearsal of Alice in Wonderland in which I played a ballet-dancing flower; a post-rehearsal trek on foot to a Ballard warehouse with a giant bonfire outside and a raging jam session in which I improvised a tune to the nursery rhyme Miss Muffet; the party’s Bacchanalian host, John Foss, standing in the middle of the road, drunk, serenading the universe with “If I was a helicopter, I’d make all your parties!” And then, sitting in my Laurelton apartment watching the rain fall for days on end, writing my version of his visit from the muse.

Ideal love is a necessity. It returns us to childhood when we believed in fairies and lined up our stuffies on our beds to fight the evil forces blocking our entrance into the kingdom. We all belong there, which is why we love stories and can never get enough even though we know that life is full of potholes along the way.

Love Chart: Mapping the Ride!

In the spirit of Valentine’s day/ leap year/ the month of February . . . I wish to offer my public installation Love Chart: Mapping the Ride!

What is this? Over the course of seventeen days, I will post original songs as evidence of the peaks and valleys spanning Ideal Love to Heartbreak, the harrowing turns and fateful descents and ascents leading from Obsession to Hope and back again.

Please be my guest for a tumultuous ride through the stages and phases of Desire!

Love Chart

Aphorism #15

“I see life as a roadside inn where I have to stay until the coach from the abyss pulls up.  I don’t know where it will take me, because I don’t know anything.  I could see this inn as a prison, for I’m compelled to wait in it; I could see it as a social centre, for it’s here that I meet others.  But I’m neither impatient nor common.  I leave who will to stay shut up in their rooms, sprawled out on beds where they sleeplessly wait, and I leave who will to chat in the parlors, from where their songs and voices conveniently drift out here to me.  I’m sitting at the door, feasting my eyes and ears on the colours and sounds of the landscape, and I softly sing – for myself alone – wispy songs I compose while waiting.”

Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), The Book of Disquiet

Notes scribbled during a performance of Cineastas, expanded upon and turned into ten rules to live by

1.Two lives are more balanced than one. A double life is preferred, and keeps people guessing.

2. Objects reconstruct life. Look around a space, how everything is placed tells our story.

3. The juxtaposition of two things paves the way for a third idea. The superimposition of fiction upon a life creates a hybrid existence, clarified, rare, potentially immortal.

4. Everything that belongs to us will someday be part of someone else’s film set.  Take as a case in point, adultery.  A husband or a wife is as apt to show up in someone else’s drama as an ascot or a handbag.

5. There’s little time left.

6. “To Moscow we must go!” Ever since Chekhov wrote Three Sisters, this expression has exemplified a longing for poetry and art and culture and a desire to escape the low-brow and the mundane.  In Cineastas, the character goes on to ask, “What will I do once I get there?”

7. We see fictions.  We see our lives through fictional lenses.  Does art imitate life or is it vice versa?

8. In all stories, the inciting incident is what sets a character off upon a transformative journey.  In Cineastas, the filmmaker starts out to make his or her film.  It is the inciting incident which interrupts, transforming the experience of making the film into a harrowing, mind-boggling, revelatory act, which is the play within the play we take delight in.

9.  What changes? What lasts? How does the concept of erasure force us to see the things in life that are valuable and therefore fleeting? Or, is it the other way around: is our ghost life valuable because it is a slate soon to be wiped clean?

10. Fiction lasts longer than lives.  Identity is fluid.  We can identify with the Russian Steppes, we may perceive those hills containing measurable qualities that will sustain us.  In the end, what we have to live on is story-telling and imagination.

A subjective list: Margo’s top ten live performances of 2014

2014 has been a good year for me for witnessing live performance. Certainly, my view of what stood out is subjective; much of what makes a show memorable is the backstory – what I wore, who I went with or if I flew solo, what method of conveyance I used, how my mood was heightened/dampened by the spectacle and so on. I do not deny anyone who wishes to rate art objectively; my review will revel in subjectivity. And despite 2014 being a watershed year for me there are still many shows I missed out of personal ineptitude which may well have been deserving of a mention. Nonetheless, on we go – the top ten live performances I witnessed in 2014 (in no order of significance):

1. The Dina Martina Christmas Show, Re-bar, December 21, Winter Solstice 2014

Noteworthy to start with is the fact that I am desperate to get out of the house and seize upon the Dina show as a life ring. Writing about myself in the 3rd person, “she hefted up her healthy vagina and ran to the freeway where she hailed down a bus and ran riotous to the Re-bar hoping for relief in the form of belly laughs and bodily secretions.” In short, I am in need of a soul purge on the darkest night of the year and boy does Dina deliver. But first I have to find a seat. Like a Christmas miracle, after all ticket holders are accounted for, one perfect seat sits empty, beckoning – center, 3 rows from stage, on the aisle. I take it certain of my status as the chosen one.

Ms. Martina and her accompanist Mr. Jeffries are ideal counterparts. She does all the talking and gesticulating while he sits stoney faced as his fingers coax mellifluous sounds out of his keyboard. It is like being held in the maternal bosom of an aunt who means the world to you because of her wit and her style but also because she accomplishes thru humor what our Lord Jesus claims to: redeeming us from the agonies of the material world. And the effect lasts – 3 days later on Xmas Eve while shopping at Bartells when Taylor Swift came on the mix singing “last Christmas I gave you my heart, but the very next day you gave it away”, I am cheered remembering Dina’s so superior rendition of the song and her playful insertion of “this song, is so repetitive” into the lyrics. Dina’s gifts are the kind that keep giving!

I love seeing Dina up close. And when she calls out a Seahawks fan for checking scores on her phone, I am ready to pummel anyone who isn’t sufficiently adoring. Dina’s rendition of Laurie Anderson’s O Superman is nothing short of gobsmacking. Dina’s gift for knowing which of the original lyrics to keep (and changing the rest) is phenomenal. Her closing number brings me back to my 12 year old self, taking in lines like “then your wife seems to think your part of the furniture, oh, it’s peculiar, she used to be – so – nice/ take the long way home”, which finally makes sense to my jaded ears! But still I can’t place the artist that Dina, through her mastery, has resurrected and, even more miraculously, redeemed for me. Two days later, the ear worm finally delivers the correct answer (I knew it would eventually worm it way out, so I didn’t google it) – Supertramp!!! Glory be to God!

2. Peggy Piacenza, Touch me here, Washington Hall, November 21, 2014


I think that live performance is vital. And I encourage everyone to do whatever is necessary to get oneself out to see it. Sometimes the obstacles seem unsurmountable. That said, I am still ashamed of what I am about to write. When I get to Washington Hall (penniless) and the sign says Cash Only, I respond by glancing about and, seeing that the path is clear, I scramble upstairs to the balcony where I take out my bound notebook and write: “I am a mouse/I slip in undetected/inside Washington Hall/ where the darkness/ reassures me”. Please don’t hate me.

Peggy’s show begins with her crawling towards the audience ass backwards in red shoes. I am riveted. I am interested in what her character will say. There is a dialogue about intimacy – “touch me here”. With her back to the audience she asks “what moments should I talk about?” and “will the truths I express thru the vehicle of this body be transformed into moments of grace?” The story worth telling is inside her body and is teased out with the help of props – “I’ve been with this scarf for 25 years” – she says wringing more lives out of a bandana then Vishnu. Another prop well used is a bell which she rings with a fervor that takes her art out of the personal into the universal. Although Piacenza is an amazing physical performer, it is the audio, designed by Julian Martlew, that really floors me. At times Peggy speaks into a mike, at other times she speaks sans amplification. There is the voice of her mother on the phone prerecorded. Then after Mom puts down the receiver there is a mind-boggling looping sequence where the mental residue from the conversation spills out in a heap, piled up like so many interlacing strands or cluster of stars in a vortex. And for the climax of the piece, like a swimmer hauling her body out of the pool, Piacenza clambers up the lip of the stage and amid spotlight and smoke stands and sings her centerpiece song. At this moment she is a stand-in for the quintessential female deity of chaos and passion, bringing to mind Diamonda Galas in her fierceness, Patti Smith in her willingness to take risks, even, for an instance, Doris Humphrey, with her stark profile and dedication to her craft unfurled for all.

3. Germinal, On The Boards, September 27, 2014

Germinal. Defoort_Goerger_photobyAlain Rico_5

I surprise myself by going to this show which I know nothing about and bringing a date. The performers are French and their premise is no less than people at the brink of civilization. For us in the audience it is like watching cells in a petri dish divide or time lapse photography of mankind’s self-actualization. At one point a woman uses a pick axe to break the stage. From the bowels she then retrieves a microphone which begins the race to find ways to communicate; first one actor at a time speaks, then dialogue is established, and finally, the group falls into 4 part vocal harmony. This is a play for geeks, for those who ponder the neural pathways of the brain, and dream in Venn diagrams. There is a scene in which the actors divide everything on stage into 2 broad categories – things that go “poc-poc” when tapped (the microphone, the wall), and things that don’t (the drapes, people). For the climax, the four pioneers decide to call a 1-800 number in order to learn the ropes of setting up a new society. But the proper English female voice on the other end takes away freedoms and offers strict and unappetizing guidelines so they hang up the phone, choosing to go it alone. I guess they couldn’t possibly make more of a mess then our tribe did.

This is a good show to bring a first date since a relationship is like a civilization, it starts on a shaky premise and gradually builds an edifice out of bits of language and ritual.

4. Waiting for Godot, ACT Theatre, September 10, 2014


Beckett’s language is as poignant as ever and this is a great performance of the classic play.  In fact, I go twice! How it is that the story of two doomed guys on a postage stamp of grass with a spindly tree makes for sublime poetry I do not know, that is the magic of theater! We go to feed our souls and be redeemed.

5. The Suit, REP Theater, March 19, 2014


This is my first encounter with Peter Brooks and his superb directing.  The set is spare, and the actors make more of the simple props than humanly possible. It’s brilliant, no one is encumbered by the need to build a lavish set or change it frequently, like a shop window!  And yet the world of the play is vibrant, teeming.  When the main female character gets out of bed and sings the Nina Simone song It’s a New Day acapello, it’s spine-tingling! The addition of song and dance enhances the realism of the play – taking it to an emotionally charged place of heartbreaking passion and foreboding.

6. Joseph Arthur, Columbia City Theater, June 4, 2014


Let me say that I love this poster the very first moment I set my eyes on it, in the window of the bar where they host an open mike I sometimes attend. I know it’s cliche, the fallen angel holding his wings, his disheveled hair framed by a swirling vortex of trees. But I love it! And the show, which my friend Ann and I go to, is stellar as well. The club is small, and Ann and I manage to push our way up close to the stage. The CD tour is for a collection of Lou Reed covers. And yet Joseph Arthur injects the set with his own brilliance and pathos. Hearing him wind his way through the song Heroin (with the aid of loopers for his guitar) is a complex pleasure and a fitting tribute to Lou’s dark soul. This sounds pretentious but another highlight for me is when Joseph attacks a blank canvas with paint vials and before our eyes builds a stunning composition. His process of overlapping pigments is like the way he builds sonic layers through loops. What charisma! He is joined at some point by a band but I hardly notice.

After the show, Ann and I wait in line to buy a CD and chat with Joseph. Ironically, once home, I listen to his CD no more than twice, decidedly unimpressed by it. There’s your incentive to go out and witness live performance! It simply can’t be replicated.

7. The Man who can forget anything, On the Boards, October 9, 2014


This show is special because my son and I go together; actually I ride my bicycle and he takes the #8 bus. The show has so many references to my son and I’s creative lives, like intertwining vines, or the way dance is passed on thru generations. The show itself is a reflection on the many layers involved in art and creativity and family – and coincidentally I have a connection with every person on stage. This reminds me of Sarah Ruhl’s essay on the value of community theater, or rather, the value of watching art created by people one knows. It also uplifts things to feel that one can give back: this show marks my debut as a performance blogger.
Naturally, my “review” is subjective as hell.

8. Lorde, WaMu Theater, March 24, 2014

I buy my ticket at the last minute, and race inside the sports’ hall just as Lorde is taking to the stage. That’s a good thing, because the ambience is less than ideal in this barn.  Lorde’s set is short (she only has one album, ten songs) but riveting.  While the teens take videos, I type notes into my phone.  I am intrigued how she manages to be an arresting performer without all the choreography and folderol.  For starters, she writes damn good songs and has the backline to play the sounds, including backing vocals, from the record.  And then she has a few tricks which I eagerly record like a librarian checking out her fellow bookworms’ requests.  My list:

  • Talk. Between songs  (She doesn’t say much but it’s enough.)
  • Show video in mirror frame
  • Video on choruses
  • Drum machine
  • Chandelier or candlelight
  • Sampling and looping
  • Lights, strobes
  • Same lyrics only up
  • Telling stories
  • Red velvet
  • Different voices (Laurie Anderson)
  • Costume change
  • Oohs, no words
  • Humble.  “It is incredible that you are here.”
  • “I write songs to make myself less agitated.”

I notice that while she keeps the banter in between songs to a minimum, she does a big spoken word piece into the song Ribs which is surprisingly intimate.  She tells how she and her friend hosted a party at her parent’s house and in the wee hours of the party’s detritus she had a realization about how it was never going to be like this again and that growing up was inevitable and frightening so she wrote this song.  It’s an amazing story and universal.  The miracle is that she used that moment of anxiety as a springboard to get herself here, to this, as she put it, “box nestled between two stadiums”, to deliver her songs to the mass of teenagers (and me!) gathered here for the experience.

9. Bryan Ferry, Can’t Let Go Tour, McCaw Hall, April 7, 2014

Exactly two weeks after the Lorde concert, I find myself at the Opera House, seeing my long-standing idol Bryan Ferry, playing his oldest hits from the early Roxy Music catalog.  It’s incredible!  His band takes up the breadth of the regal stage, and Ferry is a dynamic front man, out front with the mike for the upbeat songs, and playing keys for the crooners.   I’m out of my seat, dancing my butt off and laughing, I never thought I’d hear these songs live!  They even pull out In Every Dreamhome a Heartache which is the trippiest, darkest song ever written! And of course, they play Love is a Drug, Re-make/Re-model, If There is Something, Virginia Plain, and so on. I feel sorry for the guy who brushes past me on his way to the bar, then returns twenty minutes later, annoyed and a potential buzzkill to the crazy fun time his girlfriend and I and the others in our balcony aisle are having.  But nothing can spoil my mood.  I go home happy, wondering if anyone else can claim to have seen the young goth Lorde and the glam-rocker Ferry in a fortnight, and to have done it solo!

10. The Story of Max, The Learning Tree Preschool,  August 19, 2014

A World Premiere is always a treat but a new musical unleashed on a playground with a wooden stage and a metal climber with parents and grandparents and siblings as spectators is a wonder to behold. I’ve had the privilege of writing songs for the kids at the school where I teach and this show is particularly special because it brings to life one of my favorite books, Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. I love it that art can transpire in both lowly and high sites, and whether in the Opera House, in a box between sports’ arenas, or in a backyard playground, art lifts us up and takes us somewhere between heaven and earth where the magic happens.