All The Things
Being a small collection of stuff I'm into currently
Hello, Machinists, wherever you might be.
I thought I’d take a moment and put together a little collection of the things that are monopolizing my time these days — fancies and obsessions.
Per my last Reading Room, you’ll intuit that I’ve fallen pretty deeply in an Arthurian k-hole (Kay-hole?) and I’m happily letting it pull me down — I’ll get into that in July’s Reading Room, but I’ll say that this has lead me back to the movie Excalibur, John Boorman’s somewhat liberal take on Malory’s retelling:
This movie loomed large for me in my childhood; I remember it playing forever on HBO, back when my dad had one of those switchers that clicked you in and out of the regular over-the-air channels (we were not a cable family) to HBO1. My friend Matt, in 2nd grade, had a VHS copy of it at his mom’s and I remember holing up one afternoon while his mom was gone and watching it. Naturally, we were scandalized — it gets a bit racy in places — but all that clanking armor and sword swinging, it imprinted itself on my gestating imagination
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On the viewing front, I’ve been enjoying what National Theatre At Home has on offer these days, in particular a 2014 staging of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, which I would highly recommend. I first came across Delaney’s play when I was cast in a student-directed scene during my first year in college. It was one of the scenes from the top of the second act and I was cast as Geoffrey. I remember rehearsing it for weeks, but it was only after the performance that a friend of mine was all, like, “That’s from a Smiths song!” And she was right: so much of the dialogue from the scene — and the play itself — features prominently in one of my favorite Morrissey/Marr tunes, “This Night Has Opened My Eyes.” Watch the whole play; if you’re an avid Smiths fan, you’ll hear a lot of familiar phrases. Of course, Delaney is the cover star of the ‘87 US comp, Louder Than Bombs.
Following this thread, I went on a dive through Delaney’s life and work. There are some great early interviews online. That lead me to dig into more about Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop, Delaney’s early champions. Joan was married to Ewan MacColl, as it happens — an interesting connection between midcentury experimental theatre and the second wave British folk revival! A bunch of commies, all of them.
Geoff as a character really fascinates me. We live now in an age where a queer character in a film or play is hardly something to bat an eyelash at — but when Delaney was writing, this was a thing to astonish! Even though Geoff is never outed onstage, it is made clear that he is a gay man. The character is so genuine — there’s no caricature here — it’s almost shocking. He is as familiar to us now as he would’ve been in 1958. Of course, when the show opened, it was considered revolutionary. The theatre manager of the Workshop, when A Taste of Honey was premiered, cautioned his actors at their final dress rehearsal that if there are problems at curtain call, if a riot should ensue, that they should leave the stage immediately and he would bring down the safety curtain.2
On the audio front, I recently returned to Prince’s Purple Rain for some unknown reason. The record is fantastic — there’s not a dud on there.
The record stands out for me as the one of the first gifts I picked out and bought myself for my sister for Christmas. I was never a Prince fan, myself, but the record was on constant rotation in our household during that time — ‘84 to ‘85 — and it has worked itself into my bones. Speaking of revolutionary takes on sexuality, this whole album is just brimming with outré sex. I remember being fascinated by it — and a bit intimidated. It seemed so adult at the time. Very verboten. I remember that intro to “Computer Blue,” in particular, being so mysterious and strange and exciting and weirdly frightening to my ten year-old self. So it’s funny and charming to hear Wendy & Lisa talk about their involvement so frankly:
Prince seems like he was an incredible collaborator. It’s gratifying to see the people who were with him at, arguably, the height of his powers and fame and see them so giddy about the experience.
I’m also quasi-obsessed with the new The Beths song, “Silence is Golden,” and I think you should stop everything and listen to that right now:
Sometimes you think that there are no more songs to write, that all the chord progressions are taken and all the melodies sung — if not by you, than certainly by everyone else — and it’s these songs that remind me that nothing could be farther from the truth.
That’s it for now — I’m off to rehearsals for the tour. We’re currently throwing off the dust of these old songs and dropping some new ones into the mix. Looking forward to seeing all your shiny faces out there this August!
I’d always thought these pieces of hardware were HBO proprietary, but maybe they weren’t? I can’t seem to find an image of one online.
This anecdote comes from the great Murray Melvin, who played Geoff on stage and in the film.