Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Dead Hamlet

But back in the control console, the needle was twitching on the ham detector. It slowly swung down into the lower readings until it came to rest at "0". A warning light began to flash on and off, but there was no one left to notice...

Jaylemurph and basset hound Sebastian K. Poochles star in an all-new adventure in space and time this Saturday at 5.15 here on BBC-TV's new serial, "Poochles Poo".

We re-emerged in the console room a short time later. I was feeling much more prepared in a nice cardigan and some sensible shoes, and the Poochles had replaced his lost Astrakhan hat with a straw panama. Completely ignoring the safety monitors, we walked out the doors...

And I blinked. "Is it just me, Poochles, or has it gone all over-exposed?" I asked. "It is a bit bas-relief," he said. To make sure, we both gave our heads a good shake. That seemed to clear things up.

Looking around, we were in a kind of still, creepy wood. Poochles already had his nose to the ground, sniffing. "Look at the soil," he said, letting a palmful of it run through his paws. "It's all burned into ash and sand. The heat must have been indescribable!"

I realized there was a fairly stiff breeze blowing but none of the branches were moving. I touched one. "Hunh. It's like stone," I said "Very brittle stone." But Poochles was ignoring me. He'd found a little pink flower. "It's kept almost all its colour," he said.

I wasn't listening. I saw what could only be called A Thing. As I backed up, I ran into his flower. "Sir!" he said indignantly. But he soon saw The Thing and trotted over to it. "It's A Thing," he said, helpfully.

I waved my hand at it in the fiercest way I knew. It didn't move, so I assumed it was as dead as everything else around. "It's stone," I said. Poochles gave me a withering look. "No, I think it's metal. It's a metal ham." He was right -- it certainly looked like a ham. Poochles gave it an exploratory chomp. A little piece of his tooth sheared off. "Not juicy," he said.

"Oh my god, Poochles, are you okay?" I asked, concerned. "It's nothing, sir, nothing. I can only imagine it's held together by some magne...." he kept rattling on, but when I saw his was okay, I wandered away, bored. I went over to the edge of the jungle, about 6 and a half feet away.

"Look at that, Poochles! A city!" Sure enough, a few miles away from us, a city bloomed up from the foothills of a mountain range. It looked like nothing as much as a stacks and stacks of washing-up liquid bottles with some dry ice fog floating over it. When we looked again, it was clearly different: much more complex and defined.

Poochles frowned. "Too bad it's 9.56," he said. "All the lights go off in four minutes. We'll have to come back tomorrow. Let's go back to the BASSAT and rest."

On the way back, I saw another of the flowers Poochles had found. I stopped to pick it up as Poochles nosed ahead through the forest, but as I was picking the flower, I felt a hand discretely touch my shoulder and heard a plummy voice cough and say "Pardon me, sir, but..." Naturally, I panicked and ran screaming all the way back into the BASSAT.

The Poochles looked at me funny but didn't say anything.

As we walked through the Ship's double doors, Poochles remembered it had been days since I had eaten. "You probably need some foods. Besides, they've built some nifty sets for the next serial: let's go see them." We went through a pair of roundel-ed double doors at the back of the console room I was sure hadn't been there before. Behind them was what could only be called a big, clunky Space-Age machine.

"What would you like to eat, then?" Poochles asked. I thought about it briefly and said "A chopped barbeque sandwich would be nice, and some french fries." He looked at me dumbly. "An aspirin, then? I've got one hell of a headache all of a sudden." Without missing a beat, Poochles looked at me and said "Ham and Eggs it is then, sir." He turned a dial or two and cranked a lever. What looked like a aged Mars Bar was excreted. "Eat up, eat up!" he said. I took a nibble. It was the best-tasting tuna casserole I ever tasted. We finished nibbling our bars, only to leave the mess behind us as Poochles marched back into the console room.

"Well, you'll be wanting to get back to 1960s London, I imagine," he said, forgetting I didn't actually come from there. I didn't say anything, as he had a TV and VCR in the ship. I thought I might try to record an episode of TV or two, figuring the BBC would have wiped it by my time. Who wouldn't want a lost episode of Doomwatch, I thought?

As he spoke, though, a thick blanket of smoke filled the room.

"Do you think I didn't see you mess with that control?" I said. "You yanked it right out!" The Poochles ignored me, holding up the little component and squinting at it. "This fluid link is empty. We need to fill it up before we can take off again. We can only find the necessary Mercury in the city we saw!"

"If you wanted to go there, why not just say so? It seems a bit more interesting than pre-Swinging London," I said.

"Yes, we'll just have to risk it. We'll just have to risk it," he said as he operated the door controls and walked out.

A few hours later found us at the edge of the City. I was sweating profusely and he was panting to beat the band. "It's no good," he said. "I'll have to rest."

"I need to use the Little Time Traveler's Room," I said. "I'll be back here in 10 minutes." It was a lie, of course. I had to heave, big time. I opened one of the little electronic doors and went through into the city.

I wondered around the city for some time. I noticed the doors were quite small and rounded, not shaped for a human. After a while, I began to realized I was being guided. Doors were sealing off. Eventually I was bundled into a room that converted into a lift. I plummeted several stories. When the door opened, I went through, heavy with foreboding.

I knew I was being watched. I turned around. There, in front of me, coming towards me was... was...

I could only scream...

Next Week: The Surviving Things.

Friday, February 15, 2008

On another note...

Did anyone see tonight's episode of Jeopardy! ? It's Teen Tournament time there, which is always good for a wheeze. Last year, there was the so-pathetic-it-was-cute (or maybe vice versa) crush the adorable gay boy had the other, smug gay boy. Seriously, he did everything but write "Pleeeeeze let me blow you"* for a Final Jeopardy question. Which is funny, because this year in college, I'm sure he hasn't got any need to beg anybody for sex.

Well, this year's resident boi, Hunter Brown, promises to be just as amusing, but not quite as pitiable. He and the other contestant got pretty well trounced in the first round; he was in third place, so got to go first in Double Jeopardy. His category of choice? "Broadway". He pretty much ran through the category.

What really sold it was the look of mixed grim determination to fight mixed with the look of slightly-smug "Queer Powers: Activate" pride. He didn't win today's match -- rather impressively, he risked everything on the Final Jeopardy question, got it right, but lost by $2 -- but I'm sure he earned enough to make the Wild Card spot.

*I think when he lost one of the final matches, he even went through a shoe-staring, googly-eyed "I'm glad I lost to such a great player" speech. It was heart-rending it was so sad.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Roses of Heliogabalus or, The Un-Valentine

Pretty isn't it? You can see the title above, it an 1888 canvas by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Why mention it? I think it's the influence for Act II (of three maybe?) for the Edward project I'm doing.

I've been reading (an abridged, but still 1,000+ page edition of) Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It's one of a handful of books that I've ever read that lives up to its reputationL it's immensely well-informed but still highly readable. It's almost an obligation for anyone seriously interested in history -- and especially for those interested in writing about history -- to read.

But old Edward is a bit of a prude. Any non-standard sexual activity by a man (and hoo boy, do those Romani get up to it) gets labeled "effeminacy" and glossed over. Which is disappointing since that's part of while people read about the fall of Rome. Never fear, Suetonius is always glad to help out with a dirty secret or two and there are plenty of other fine Roman historians to fill the gaps.

And Elagabalus (for some reason often erroneously called Heliogabalus) was one of the interesting ones. Even reading Gibbon's version was enough for me to start sniffing around history to find out more. He came from a royal family of Rome (no point in going into detail here since these things get fuzzy for the Romans), and was at an early age a priest of the Syrian sun god Elagabalus. When he became emperor, he adopted the name as his title. And started the fun:

"When Hierocles, a charioteer in the arena, was thrown in front of the emperor's box, his blond hair spilling out from under his helmet, Elagabalus immediately had the youth escorted to the palace, where he was found to be even more captivating. Calling him "husband" and contriving to be caught in adulterous trysts, Elagabalus proudly displayed the black eyes he insisted on receiving. But there was to be a rival. Frequenting the wharves and public baths, agents sought out others who might please the emperor, especially those who were well-endowed. Another handsome athlete, Zoticus, was discovered who surpassed all others in the size of his membrum virile. Hastened to Rome, where he immediately was made court chamberlain, he greeted Elagabulus with the usual salutation "My Lord Emperor, Hail," only to be admonished, "Call me not Lord, for I am a Lady." That night, Elagabalus was to be disappointed, when Zoticus could not perform as expected. Hierocles, fearful that he would fall out of favor, had the cup bearers drug the wine and Zoticus, humiliated and deprived of his honors, was exiled from court."

This is from Cassio Dio, quoted on this excellent site.

The picture above is a rendering of this story from of his life:

"He [Elagabalus] loaded his parasites with violets and other flowers in a banqueting room with a reversable ceiling, in such a way that some of them expired when they could not crawl out to the surface."

Scriptores Historiae Augustae: Antoninus Heliogabalus (XXI.5)
Anyway, the link between the painting and Edward is this: the scene where the Edward-character and Gaveston-character first interact in a meaningful way after Gaveston's return from his (first) exile is in a scene set in a dance club, to the song "Michael". As the two dance* on the floor, everyone else's dances become equally sexy and roses, violets and other prettily-smelling flowers fall from the ceiling.While the other boys begin what is essentially an orgy (tho' their decorum be covered by petals), Edward and Gaveston leave to fuck alone.

Right now, I think the Gaveston-character will be called Michael -- for an obvious reason --and the Edward-character Daniel. I think that's enough for right now. Attentive readers can already see a few sticking points --"How old are these characters?" is one. The implied connection I've made between Elagabalus and one of the two characters (clearly Daniel as Edward) brings up the question of class -- which is a huge point in the original.

My next entry will detail the central metaphor I'm using for the work. I think once that has been laid out properly, I can return to the question I raised this time. I just wanted to start with this image, for its topicality, and because it's one of two relatively-thought scenes. (The other is Edward's death scene , with "40' " as the soundtrack.**

*Yes, all right, that's Shakespeare, not Marlowe.

**Do forgive the line spacing changes half way through the post. I meddled with Blogger for 20 minutes or so to fix it. Fortunately, it's somewhat masked since it only appears after the block quote: surely no accident, stupid cheap Blogger text editor!

Monday, February 11, 2008

"Fifteen pounds of fuck-puppy in a 10-pound bag"

So how, one may ask, do you fill your lonely hours of late, Jay? Well, despite spending a big hunk of each day writing a dusty thesis, I write. The only negative thing I could say about being in New York was that I didn't write as much as I should. Even that's not totally fair, as I was writing for school a great deal, but as much inspiration as there was to be had in the big city, I can't help but feel now I wasted a lot.

However, I got a big breath of inspiration not too long ago, and (touch wood) it seems to be lasting and prospering. Not all moody Indie music lends itself to working out, but not too long ago I started listening to Franz Ferdinand's first album at the gym. I had sort of given up on them as far too mainstream, but coming back to them and giving them a good listen, I clearly need to go back and tell myself to get over myself.

Time was, I thought the sun shined out of their shapely and seemingly available bums:

: Franz Ferdinand Album: Darts of Pleasure EP
Label: Domino Records Rating: 5 out of 5 *s

Oh. Yeah. Boys.
Being the Boy With His Thumb To The Pulse Of The Scottish Scene (TM ;0) I had heard rumors of the band Franz Ferdinand: wonderful, extatic, nigh-swooning things. And they were all right.
Franz Ferdinand is exactly what the whole lo-fi garage thing tries and fails miserably to be (Suck it up: The White Stripes, Jett, The Raveneonettes, et al. blow): fun, dirty and original.
What does it sound like? The above bands with a spark, with touches of Bowie, Steppenwolf and a little added Funk. On top is some sharp but subtle political edge (track three is about the gentrification of their hometown, Glasgow).
What separates these guys from their Big Label Clones is probably not surprising to any Kid around: they may be as hip or self aware as, say Jett, but they don't take themselves so damn seriously. They have fun. They're irony-light, yo. Play it now. "

[This, of course, was from the defunct Jaylemurph Reviews. I've been reading a few reviews there lately, after having, for soon-forthcoming reasons, wanting to find out more about the band. The material stands up pretty well, and the style pretty well matches up with the subject. It makes me smile]

Clearly, I like what I'm hearing there, and do again. And it's nice to have an excuse to spend some time listening to their work since that and their first full album came out. And it's good. The song "Michael"...

...struck a chord. The sort of louche pan-sexuality the band and their music exudes resonates as a concrete musical example of the theoretical, critical dullness I've been writing about for my thesis. This article, by Rob Sheffield and from the Village Voice, does a pretty good description of it, and is also really good a putting a finger on their musical influences. This entry's title comes from the article.

But of course the band does a much better job themselves:

Seriously, don't you want to grab one (or potentially, a few) of those boys from IndieBoyz?*

But obviously, gentle reader, cheap titillation aside, I'm sure you're champing at the bit to see where I'm going with this and my non-academic writing. Okay.

I'm writing a musical adaptation of Marlowe's Edward II using the music of Franz Ferdinand.

I still think it's a brilliant idea. Anyway, I've got the feeling this will be a profitable place for me to come to hammer out the details: I've got specific ideas for individual songs and how to use them, a general idea of what I'm going to change, and why, a general concept for plot, and -- best of all, if not the most useful -- as specific concept to build all these up on.

But I can get into those later. A lot of them are relatively complex dramaturgical issues that need more time and energy than I'm willing to expend this second.

One thing that is sort of tangentially exciting is that my good (and drop-dead gorgeous) friend** Jacob, who's finishing up his DFA at Yale, was the dramaturg for a production of Edward recently. Ish. I know I can bounce ideas of him, since we've worked together before, and I have the greatest respect for his knowledge and experience. His expertise is on modern theatre, but he has a solid understanding of the Elizabethans. And that's not praise I throw around a lot.

*Perhaps not completely incidentally, Eurocreme (well, technically their sub-studio IndieBoyz) has released Indie Boyz 2. The original is better (what sequel is ever as good? And no, don't say The Godfather...) but it's still hotter than 99.9% of the rest of the porn in the world. If this show ever gets on its feet, I'm totally giving small parts to the boys in these movies. It's only fair.

** Uhh... Maybe I shouldn't have said that, but I'm reasonably certain that a) he's never going to read this site, b) he knows I think that anyway, c) it's not at all mean and d) it's as true as anything I've ever said, if not more so.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Now Let Us Praise Famous Queers

For one reason and another, I haven't been listening to Dan Savage's Savage Lovecast podcast for the past several weeks, so as I was pottering around cleaning today, I listened to a few in a row.

Amusingly, in episode 66 (for 22 January) he bitches about Alexander Wolfe's hand-wringing complaint that because dull computer geek podcasts aren't the most popular ones, that podcasting is dead. And then Dan mispronounces Leo Laporte's name. Heh heh.
(If you don't know, Leo is in the contending for the dullest person on Earth, attended by a clique of poorly-washed, faux-hacker faithful who mistake technology for means of social interaction.)

Alarmingly, in episode 64, I'm reasonably certain it's my old friend Paulie from Brooklyn that's calling in, describing his girlfriend with a grammar fetish. And lying about it. Paulie's the guy who managed to sleep through shifts as a Renaissance soldier ("He had the night watch...") and who, after getting profoundly drunk, drew a "Mister Paulie's Stomach" smilie-face in indelible ink
and used him to talk for him for several hours. He's fascinating for being a drifter with whom you randomly run into in far-flung places: last time I heard from him, he was a bar manager in Asheville (giving Laura Llew completely the wrong impression of my ability to pull); before that, he was studying music in Poughkeepsie; before that, he was fleeing a hurricane in Raleigh (and no, that doesn't make any sense to me, either). Calling in to Dan Savage's show while high is oddly in keeping for him.

Here's an open Question...

Can you tell me why English infinitives have "to" in front of them?

I've never met anyone, anywhere who knew. It isn't inherent in the language -- Old English doesn't do it. As far as I can figure, it confers some idea of futurity, rather like the "to" in tomorrow or tonight. And the original form of those words often appeared as to-morrow and to-night as if the *to- was some sort of archaic enclitic, but I'm not aware of that form appearing anywhere else. Clearly, its function is purely grammatical, as that form of "to" carries none of the locative or dative functioning the preposition to has.