Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Would Not, In Fact, Like To Swim With Dolphins

You know what? I don’t want to swim with dolphins. Apparently, this makes me the worst human being ever, because whenever I have mentioned this, people look at me as though to say “You know who also probably didn’t want to swim with dolphins? Hitler. And probably also Charles Manson. I bet you like to kick puppies and kittens for shits and giggles, don’t you?”. Swimming with dolphins is apparently a very popular thing to want to do. So popular, in fact, that it is the second most popular bucketlist item on http://www.sharebuckets.com/ after “get a tattoo”, which, coincidentally is another thing I don’t want to do, because I’m scared to death of both needles and commitment. Dolphin tattoos are probably also somewhere on the list as I have seen quite a few of those when I have had occasion to watch Jerry Springer.

For what it’s worth, I also don’t want to get out of the rat race and just open a quaint bed and breakfast somewhere out in New Hampshire or whatever other naturey type state they have, because I find even houseguests that I know personally to be entirely unbearable, and I am pretty sure having strangers in my house that I have to make breakfast for would be a really bad time. For both of us, actually. I mean, I can’t imagine anyone being too thrilled about the bowl of Cracklin’ Oat Bran I would likely toss them. I wouldn’t want to stay in one either, because I figure you’d probably have to talk to the people and that’s pretty gross. Nonetheless, this is a popular thing to want to do.

I also do not believe in God, although people do not look as horrified when I tell them this as when I tell them I do not want to swim with dolphins. Sometimes they look sad. Sometimes they say “But don’t you wish you did? Wouldn’t it be nice?” and they make it sound so nice and all. But no, I actually do not wish that I did, because I think I’d be really uncomfortable with the idea of someone watching me all the time in order to “judge” me. Like, while I'm going to the bathroom, or just sitting there watching Intervention and eating ice cream or something and deciding whether or not he thinks I should burn for eternity. That would be so awkward.

But, back to the dolphins.

I am not anti-dolphin. I buy dolphin-safe tunafish. I donate my 15 dollars a month to Greenpeace and occasionally even actually read the weird emails they send me every day about Trader Joe’s supporting Somalian pirates in some capacity. I even know the secret password to get the Greenpeace canvassers around 6 corners to stop bothering you every time you are waiting for the Damen Bus. It is “Arctic Sunrise”, should you care to know. And yet, I have absolutely no desire to swim with freaking dolphins.

Why? Is it because I read Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy at a young age? Is it because I hate the glorious majesty of nature? Is it because I have no soul? Maybe. Maybe it is all of those things. But mostly it’s that I think it would be really boring after 5 minutes, I mean, I lived in Massachusetts. I’ve seen whales. They are not that riveting, and they’re like, way bigger than dolphins. I lived in Plymouth for the first four years of my life where the major tourist attractions are a rock in a hole in the ground and whale watching. “Oh, we’re on a boat… with some binoculars… there’s a whale. Now it’s gone…” As far as crappy Massachusetts field trips go, I would rather walk the Freedom Trail four times over, or spend three hours staring blankly at a statue of Paul Revere, than ever go whale watching. Also, given the fact that swimming with the dolphins costs like $1500, and they probably don’t even let you drink or smoke, I really do not see how it’s at all worth it.

Plus, like, what does it even entail? According to the Wikipedia entry on Swimming With Dolphins- which is a thing that exists, it seems that they will hug and kiss you, which is weird, and possibly dance around you, which could actually be terrifying and sort of Rosemary’s Baby-like. I imagine you are also supposed to touch them, and I just don’t know how pleasant that would actually be. I feel like the only thing you’d really get out of it would be the ability to tell people about it later, and act like you’re really special because you now know the mystical secrets of the dolphins or some shit.

I already know the mystical secret of the dolphins. Would you like to know what the mystical secret of the dolphins is? I will tell you. They’re rapists. That’s right. The gentle mammals of the sea are fucking rapists. There are like, 14 incidents of attempted or successful dolphin rape a year. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you check YouTube. A dude from England was put in jail for having copulated with a dolphin until it turned out that said dolphin was like the Dominique Strauss-Kahn of dolphins and went around trying to rape people pretty much all the time. Dolphin rape is probably like, 85,000 times worse than regular rape, as there is also the added issue of possibly drowning. And what if you died, and then at your funeral everyone was like “Oh, she was such a great person. Such a great lover of nature. It sure is tragic that she drowned while being raped by a dolphin.” Dolphins are also apparently fond of gang rape, and have been known to drag other dolphins and possibly people down to secret rape caves at the bottom of the ocean.

Yeah, right, you say. What are dolphins going to drag anyone with? Their flippers? Their flippers are slippery! And tiny! You could easily escape! And that just shows you that you do not know as much about dolphins as you think you do. Guess what they drag you down with! GUESS. They drag you down with their penises. Their prehensile penises. I’m not even joking. A dolphin’s dick is like a monkey’s tail, and they can use it like a freaking arm, with which to grab hold of you and drag you down to their secret lair at the bottom of the ocean where they will gang rape the fuck out of what by that time will probably be your lifeless corpse.

And what if you survived? The $1500 you paid for the trip would be surely be dwarfed by your therapy bills, and you’d probably have a seizure every time you accidentally saw a rerun of Flipper on TV Land. Plus, like, how do you even explain that to people? You'd be on a date with some dude at a restaurant with a fish tank, and then you’d just burst into tears like a crazy. And then you would have to say “Please excuse me, but I was raped by a dolphin. It’s very traumatic.” And he would probably think you were lying because everyone knows that dolphins are the friendly, gentle mammals of the sea. That relationship would not go very far, I’ll bet you.

So, you know- sure, maybe I’m an asshole for not wanting to swim with dolphins. Maybe I have some kind of character defeciency that prevents me from seeing the wonder in sloshing around the ocean with a bunch of large water mammals. But said deficiency will also prevent me from being raped by a dolphin, so maybe I don’t care.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Of Silverware Sex Cults, Ego and Assassination: Charles J. Guiteau

I have always been sort of fascinated by assassinations- which I think is maybe the result of having gone to John F. Kennedy Elementary School as a kid? I don't know. Maybe I'm just morbid. Anyway, my favorite (for lack of a better word, I suppose) assassin was Charles Julius Guiteau, the dude who shot Garfield. Whom, embarassingly enough, I had never actually heard of until I got a copy of the OBC Recording of Sondheim's Assassins. But it's been true love ever since, I guess. He's totally fascinating- I mean, seriously- if you thought John Hinckley was wacky... yikes. Anyway, I will tell you about him.

Guiteau and I actually have something in common: We were both rejected from weird sex cults in Western, NY. Mine was an Actor's Studio called "Magnum Opus" that I didn't actually know was a cult until it came out in the paper about a year after they'd disappeared. Seriously, they never even tried to brainwash me, and frankly- I was a little offended. His was The Oneida Community. The Oneida Community was really into two things- free love and makin' silverware. They were a millenialist community, and they believed that Jesus had already come back and that they were supposed to be making heaven on earth happen already. All the kids were raised communally, and you had to be pre-approved to even have them (a process called stirpiculture, which was sort of a pre-eugenics type of thing). Anyway, Guiteau was apparently so totally repulsive (because he acted as though he were superior to everyone else) that dude could not get any, even in a community where everyone was banging everybody else. The ladies nicknamed him "Charles Get-out", as in, get the fuck out of my bedroom, you creepy, creepy dude.

ASIDE: Yup, it's what you're thinking. After Noyes, the dude who started the cult died, The Oneida Community abandoned the whole religious thing and just concentrated on the flatware. That's where Oneida Flatware comes from.

OH! Also, weirdly enough, the community attracted not one, but two famous assassins. Leon Czolgolz was also a member, briefly.

SO ANYWAY. After he left the community for the final time, he decided to become a lawyer. Which you could do back then without actually ever going to law school (you just had to pass the bar). That didn't so much work out for him either. For a while he just racked up bills and pissed off creditors. At one point, he lived with his sister and randomly tried to kill her with an axe. He ran away to avoid being institutionalized at her request. Then he got married, but his wife divorced him when he got syphillis from a prostitute. Naturally, after that, he decided he'd go into politics!

POLITICS! Dude writes a speech in support of Grant. Grant didn't win the nomination, so he switched out Grant's name with Garfield's and went on about campaigning. He gave the speech on a few occasions and handed it out to some people here and there, and when Garfield won the election, he assumed it was due ENTIRELY to the totally awesome speech that he wrote.

This would sort of be like me, a relatively unknown person, having written a blog post on one of my crappy blogs that no one reads, in support of a Presidential Nominee, and then taking credit for that person winning. To put it in perspective.

Anyhow, back in the day it was sort of customary, after a President was elected, for people who had campaigned for him to line up ask for a job. Guiteau sends like, a bajillion letters demanding to be made Ambassador to Austria or France- my favorite of which was this totally wacky one about how he was engaged to a dead New York Republican Millionaire's daughter and how they would be SUCH a shining example of American awesomeness in Austria. Of course, all of his letters were ignored, and when he went up to the Secretary of State and introduced himself as the crazy letter writer, the dude freaked out and demanded that he never contact anyone at the White House again. You know, because dude was obviously totally fucking bonkers. But he was so convinced that it as his speech that had clinched the election for Garfield, that he was just really shocked and appalled at their lack of gratitude or whatever.

This is where it gets all complicated and shit. Which is why I've written like five drafts of this blog post at various times and then abandoned it. OK. So, instead of dealing with the rejection like an adult and figuring that maybe they have their reasons for not making him, a random crazy dude, Ambassador to Austria or France... Guiteau believes that this is obviously a sign from God that God wants him to kill Garfield. Makes sense, right? Totally reasonable. He decides that GOD wants a Stalwart in the office (How do I explain this quickly? Back then there were two different factions in the Republican Party, Half Breeds and Stalwarts, with differing opinions on Civil Service Reform and some other stuff. Garfield was a Half Breed and his VP, Chester A. Arthur was a Stalwart. And now I have Cher stuck in my head.).

Guiteau stalks Garfield for a while, in order to be able to kill him without possibly hurting anyone else. Which was, I suppose, about as thoughtful as an assassin can be. When he finally does succeed in shooting him, he loudly cheers "I am a Stalwart of the Stalwarts! Arthur is President now!" and was SO TOTALLY convinced that everyone was just going to lift him up on their shoulders and cheer for him and consider him a Great American Hero and whatnot. In fact, he was apparently way concerned about buying an attractive gun, as he imagined it would later be given a place of honor in a museum. Once again, dude is totally wrong about everything and he goes on trial.

(ASIDE: It took several months for Garfield to die, by the way, and the reason he died from the gunshot wound was probably because doctors didn't know about germs at the time and things weren't very sterile. Guiteau would argue at his trial that he only shot Garfield and the doctors were the ones who killed him, because God wanted him dead. Or something.)

The whole time he's in jail during the trial, he keeps talking about all these imaginary supporters who supposedly come by his cell every day to thank him for shooting Garfield, and sending letters to General Sherman asking him to send his army to come liberate him, and issuing letters to the public to thank them for giving Garfield's widow money and suggesting that they send him money as well. Crazypants. His brother-in-law, the husband of the sister that he randomly went after with an axe, defends him in court. However, Guiteau freaks the fuck out at any mention of insanity and tries to take over the whole defense plan. His defense plan apparently included epic poems and SINGING. It was a 6 month long circus, and actually the first major trial in which the insanity defense was used. Despite the fact that dude was obviously cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, he is found guilty and sentenced to be hanged.

His last words before his hanging were actually a song he had written at 10am that morning (his request for a orchestra was denied). A song, he claimed, in the voice of a "small child babbling to his parents." It was pretty weird. It went like "I'm going to the lordy, I am so glad.I am going to the Lordy, I am so glad, I am going to the Lordy, Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah! I am going to the Lordy. I love the Lordy with all my soul, Glory hallelujah! And that is the reason I am going to the Lord, Glory hallelujah! Glory hallelujah! I am going to the Lord. I saved my party and my land, Glory hallelujah! and so on and so on.

And then he died. There's a lot more to his story than what I've written here- and even this shit is way too long. The thing I find so interesting about this dude was that he seriously had like, the most serious delusions of grandeur I've ever heard of. He thought he was awesome at everything. He thought he was just the greatest person ever and truly could not see why he wasn't given as much homage as he thought he was due. He thought he was a genius and a hero. But really, he was just a crazy dude with a weird beard. A piece of his brain is on display at the Mutter Museum, and you can talk about him at cocktail parties.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Terror of the High C's: A Small Treasury of Musical Delusions, Part 2

In the words of the Countess LuAnn, money can't buy you class. In this day and age, it can, however, buy you a singing voice- or at least, a weird robotic approximation of one!

We are lucky, of course, to have been blessed with such artists as Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, that Heidi person, The Countess and of course Kim from Real Housewives of Atlanta. Without the magic of autotune, this may have never been possible. Can you imagine a world where the only people who sang professionally were those born with the ability? That seems pretty unfair, right? However, one courageous crazy rich lady struck out on her own.

Florence Foster Jenkins

Unlike the ladies I mentioned above, FloFo was actually kind of a cool lady and I actually admire her quite a bit. As a people, ladies named Florence tend to be pretty bad ass. Flo Ballard (my favorite Supreme), Florence Griffith Joyner, Florence Nightingale, Florence and the Machine... Anyway, FFJ dreamed her whole life of becoming a singer. She begged her super rich daddy to send her abroad to study music, but he refused (not sure whether this was due to patriarchal grossness or the fact that he realized that she weren't too good at it). So, instead of doing that, she eloped with a doctor who was also totally lame and wouldn't let Flo sing! After about 7 years she kicked him to the curb and started making her own way, working as a pianist and shacking up with an actor! Hot!

St. Clair Bayfield! Flo's actor guy. This is the biggest picture I could find of him. On another note, how awesome would it be to have your first name be "St." something or another? Super awesome, probably. I bet you could get away with a lot that way. St. Clair comes from St. Clare of Assissi, who was the patron saint of eye diseases, laundry, needleworkings and television. Neat!

So, anyway, Flo's rich dad died, leaving her a shit ton of money. Naturally, she used this money to jump start her singing career! So, she founded The Verdi Club so that she could host society type events all the time at which she would sing terribly for hours and hours and change costumes with every song. Said costumes often involved tinsel and wings and flowers and she made most of them herself!

But that wasn't enough for Flo, she wanted to bring her music to ALL people, not just fancy society people. So, put she out some records!

Rejoice! This is Flo's rendition of Mozart's "Queen of the Night"- which is, by the way, a notoriously hard piece to sing, even if you are super awesome at the singing. I mean, god love her, it's just horrendous. The redeeming value to her performances is that she really was totally fucking sincere, totally without artiface. She loved music, she loved wearing costumes, she loved singing. So she did it. This, of course, is how it is supposed to sound:

Ok, so Florence obviously knew that some people were making fun of her. But instead of letting that get her down, she responded with the way many mothers accused of dressing too sexy appearing on the Maury show often do- by basically accusing the audience of being haters who are just jealous. Awesome. The people around her usually supported this delusion because she was a nice lady and they liked her too much to burst her bubble. But at the end of the day, despite her bravado, Flo had this to say about her musical career; "People may say I can't sing, but no one can say that I didn't sing."

As someone who really can sing and does not (except for the occasional karaoke adventure and general silliness)- I have to admit, I actually am kind of jealous of someone who has that much chutzpah. Whenever I do sing in front of people, I feel like it needs to be so mindblowingly awesome that it, in some small way, makes up for everything else that might be wrong with me, which usually results in my throat closing up and me feeling like I want to die. It's kind of pathetic, actually.

But I digress! There were many other awesome things about Ms. Jenkins. For one, her accompanist's name was Cosme McMoon! Also, one time she was in a taxicab accident, and afterwards discovered that it caused her to be able to sing even higher than before, so instead of suing the cab company, she sent the driver a fancy box of cigars.

After many years of performing for just her friends, FFJ finally capitulated to public demand... and performed at Carnegie Hall! The performances were a smash hit, selling out well in advance! Sadly, a month later, she passed away at the age of 76 in the home she shared with her actor boyfriend. Her life was kind of an inspiration, I think. At least to me. It would be nice if we all had the kind of brass balls she did to just go ahead and do what we want and just not give a shit. So now you know all about Florence Foster Jenkins, and you can talk about her at cocktail parties!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Something Good, Something Sad: A Small Treasury of Musical Delusions of Grandeur (Part 1)-

Sometime last week, the Internet gave birth to a musical sensation called Rebecca Black. A 13 year old with rich parents who enjoys cereal, Autotune and the pondering the eternal existential dilemma of which seat to take in the car.

For posterity:

The Internet, of course, is a lot like "Moon Unit", the gerbil my sister and I had when we were kids- in that, in the time it takes you to go to the Caldor and back again, she will eat her babies and leave you scarred for life. At first, we laughed, because it was a hilariously poorly written song sung by someone who cannot sing. Then we got all mad and bitter about Autotune and spoiled 13 year-olds whose parents not only let them drive around in cars with older boys without their seat belts on, but buy them fancy music videos about such activities. Then, we analyzed our reactions, thought about what it all meant, and some came to the conclusion that this was something that could only happen in our time, with our newfangled Internet, short attention span, and smart ass love of things that are so bad they're wonderful.

But Rebecca Black is not the first of her kind by a long shot... I shall present, this week, an examination of her predecessors.

The Cherry Sisters

When my sister and I were kids, I used to make her put on "shows" with me for our parents and relatives. Said "shows" consisted of things like mini-operas about how we were orphans lost in the woods somewhere with someone trying to kill us because we were too beautiful to live; elaborately costumed and poorly choreographed interpretive dances to Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, and for some reason, Burl Ives songs- and of course, lots and lots of Girl Group style singing. "Leader of the Pack", "Don't Mess With Bill" and "Stop in The Name of Love" were of course favorites due to the potential for combining both singing and interpretive dance.

After these performances, our mother would clap wildly and tell us we sounded "just like The Cherry Sisters". Oh, how we'd beam with pride! Surely, Our Sainted Mother believed that we were destined for stardom! Or not. Unfortunately, Mom was totally a jerk, and I found out way later that The Cherry Sisters were actually famous for being terrible.

Hailed by The New York Times as "Four Freaks From Iowa", The Cherry Sisters came from a small town in which everyone patted them on the head and told them they were wonderful. Probably because they felt bad that the sisters were orphans and their brother had gone missing and such. Emboldened by this, they decided to take their act, "Something Good, Something Sad", on the road. Said act consisted of very poorly sung songs about Amurica and Jebus and how smoking a cigar will inevitably lead to a ladies ruin- as well as short morality plays involving terrible ethnic impersonations, and a "tableau" in which one of the sisters was suspended from a giant crucifix. Wherever they performed, the sisters were met with godawful reviews and vegetables. Many, many vegetables. Rotten ones, to be exact. It was sort of like an old-timey Rocky Horror. It got to the point where, eventually, The Cherry Sisters had to perform with a mesh net in front of them to protect them from the onslaught of produce.

Yet, the sisters soldiered on, apparently believing that all the bad reactions and reviews were due to professional jealousy. While one would like to think that it was some kind of Andy Kaufmann-like performance piece, and assume the ladies were in on the joke the whole time... it's pretty unlikely that this was the case. Extremely Puritanical in their ways, The Cherry Sisters took everything pretty seriously. They refused to go to Coney Island on account of the fact that there were ladies there in bathing suits. None of them were ever married and in fact, they insisted that none of them had ever even been kissed. The fact is, they really believed in their act, and believed that the dour moral stringency they adhered to and promoted was the exact thing that the country needed.

They sold out shows wherever they went because people were curious to see how bad they really were (and probably excited to throw their rotten vegetables). Newspaper theater critics (the media bloggers of their day) delighted in cleverly verbally skewering the act. One such critic, William Hamilton, went too far and ended in a landmark Supreme Court Case- Cherry vs. Des Moines Leader.

Excerpt from said review:

"When the curtain went up...[t]he audience saw three creatures surpassing the witches in Macbeth in general hideousness. ... Their long, skinny arms, equipped with talons at the extremities, swung mechanically , and anon were waved frantically at the suffering audience. The mouths of their rancid features opened like caverns, and sounds like the wailing of damned souls issued therefrom. They pranced around the stage...strange creatures with painted features and hideous mien. Effie is spavined, Addie is knock-kneed and string-halt, and Jessie, the only one who showed her stockings, has legs without calves, as classic in their outlines as the curves of a broom handle."

Which is maybe one of the most hilarious things I have ever read. The sisters tried to sue dude for libel, and lost because the press has the right to fair comment and because the judges had seen their act.

The sisters got their "big break" when in 1896, Oscar Hammerstein I (The OG Hammerstein. His son was the "Rodgers and Hammerstein" Hammerstein.) decided to bring their act to the bright lights of Broadway. Not because he thought they were awesome, but because his shit was failing and he needed to generate some revenue. No one was coming to his shows at the new Olympic Theater because it was kinda out of the way and smelled funny. Ye Olde Simon Cowell that he was, he realized that people would be more likely to watch his real show if they could watch some hilariously, cluelessly bad ones first. Especially if they got to throw tomatoes at them. He was totally right- people clamored to see the worst/best act ever-Hammerstein made boatloads of money from their 6 week stint and the day was saved!

Eventually, after about 7 years of touring, the ladies retired back to their hometown in Iowa, opened a bakery, tried to revive their act a few times and then died pretty much penniless, mostly of Oregon Trail type diseases. Their spirit, however, live on today in some of our most notable YouTube and E! Channel based performers.

Next up in this series, we shall discuss the gloriousness that was Florence Foster Jenkins! Stay tuned, bitches.