Annie Lennox at the Masonic Auditorium

More stuff I’m behind with blogging about: Last Wednesday Dave took me to see Annie Lennox at the Masonic Auditorium.

I had a good time, but it was also frustrating because I didn’t already know the songs, and from the beginning of the concert to the end I could make out only maybe a dozen words in all. I thought it was just me again with my one deaf ear, which makes it hard to tell which direction a sound is coming from and therefore hard to focus on one thing when there are sounds coming from multiple directions, even though I can hear about as well as ever. (For example, it can be very hard to focus on the conversation at my dinner table if there are equally audible conversations going on around me — all those conversations have equal prominence as far as my brain is concerned, which can make following and keeping focused on a conversation in a crowded restaurant a really exhausting job of concentration for me these days.) But Dave said later he had trouble too, so it was apparently a combination of the Masonic’s echoey acoustics and too much amplification for the space.

Other than two Eurhythmics songs that I remembered from my college days, I didn’t know any of the songs, and there was no program given, so I didn’t even know what the titles of the songs were until afterward when Dave showed me the list he’d made during the concert. But that’s my own ignorance at work, I’m sure, and Dave told me later than the program was mostly her most popular songs from earlier albums and only maybe two or three from her most recent.

However, I seemed to be the only person there who didn’t have every one of the songs memorized, as I could see people mouthing the words all around the audience. Folks were dancing in the aisles and generally having a great time.

Smuin Ballet and Shocktoberfest 2007

Friday night Dave and I saw Smuin Ballet at the Palace of Fine Arts. I thought it was a terrific program. Amy Seiwert’s Objects of Curiosity, a world premiere, is an abstract dance; it seemed to me to be nothing revolutionary but attractive and interesting. Michael Smuin’s Duettino is a flashy trifle that lets a pair of good dancers show off a lot. Smuin’s Stabat Mater, choreographed in response to 9/11, is very powerful and beautiful, though the mixing of images suggestive of the Stabat Mater and of 9/11 is startling and I’m not sure what the point of the juxtaposition is. The last piece on the program, Reinin’ in the Hurricane, is delightful, a series of short turns set to popular country-western songs, beginning and ending with “Don’t Fence Me In”.

I thought two Asian male dancers, Koichi Kubo in Duettino and Kevin Yee-Chan in Reinin’ in the Hurricane, were standouts, both of them pulling off a lot of flashy moves with a lot of charm. All in all a very enjoyable evening.

Then last night Dave and Terry and I went to the Hypnodrome to see Thrillpeddlers’ Shocktoberfest!! 2007: Maker of Monsters. Thrillpeddlers specializes in recreating Grand Guignol, and a few years ago they acquired their own tiny theater, the Hypnodrome. Dave and I have seen most of the Shocktoberfests since the first one at the Exit Theater, and we both thought this was the best one ever. They’ve done individual plays that have worked as well for me — I especially remember The Crime in the Madhouse, which Dave and I both found particularly disturbing — but this is the first show they’ve done where I felt like they were at their best all the way through from beginning to end. The actors played more consistently with conviction, and even those who have been Thrillpeddlers regulars for a while seemed to have improved a level or two in believability. The stage effects were more consistently effective and something downright beautiful, and the overall shape of the program was very satisfying.

The Grand Guignol recipe was a program of very short plays, a mix of sex farces and lurid Nightmare-on-Elm-Street style melodramas with lots of sadism, terror, stage blood, and other gruesome effects. The first play on the bill was The Maker of Monsters, which we’re pretty sure they did once before in a Shocktoberfest back in the Exit, but it was much much stronger this time around. This was followed by a series of three very short skits based on three very unusual — yet very popular in terms of the number of Google searches made per day — sexual fetishes.

After an intermission, The Colossus is a creepy, brooding play about a sculptor who loses his beloved four-year-old daughter in a fire, and The Bloody Con is a silly farce about four convicts forced to take part in a gruesome medical experiment, and is as much as anything an excuse for a lot of stage blood and other effects. But it ends the show on a note of silliness and fun.

I Market-Tested the Following Opinion Before Committing to It

Just watched the Chris Matthews interview on The Daily Show plugging a new book he’s written about how to live your whole life as though you were running a political campaign. (I’m not kidding; that’s what the book is about. I forget the exact title but it’s something like Live Your Life Like a Campaign.)

I’ve never seen Hardball (I don’t want television except for downloading The Daily Show and The Colbert Report from the iTunes Store) so this is the first time I’ve ever seen Mr. Matthews, and I gotta say the guy comes across as a bit of a crybaby.

Granted, Mr. Stewart didn’t start out gushing with praise for the book; he said that it seemed to him like a recipe for sadness, to make all your decisions in life based on pretending to be what people want you to be. Mr. Matthews made the briefest of attempts at a defense of the premise of his book — it didn’t amount to much more than “Is not!” — and then started complaining about how this was the worst book interview he’d ever had. Mr. Stewart made some specific criticisms and Mr. Matthews responded to them only vaguely. It seemed as though he had not put much thought or much conviction into the book he’d written. Really, he came off like a shallow, superficial person who had written a book on a shallow, superficial premise and who was caught off guard when he met up with someone who didn’t want to praise him for it.

That’s so like the so-called “conservative” movement today. Mr. or Ms. Pundit offers a few simple, glib rules for running your life, and then when someone says, Wait, but it doesn’t actually work that way, the response isn’t to admit that sometimes life is complicated and to try to figure out something to do about it; no, the response is to get angry at someone for having a complicated reality that messes up the neat little idealistic theory.

Favorite moment: Mr. Matthews at one point tells Mr. Stewart that the ideas in his book are what you have to do if you want to be successful; Mr. Stewart responds, “But — I am successful.”

A Divine Penicillin

An international anti-gay movement called the Watchmen on the Walls has been increasingly active in the Sacramento Valley and other parts of the Northwest, particularly among Slavic immigrants. According to a story at AlterNet:

Vlad Kusakin, the host of a Russian-language anti-gay radio show in Sacramento and the publisher of a Russian-language newspaper in Seattle, told the Seattle Times in January that God has “made an injection” of high numbers of anti-gay Slavic evangelicals into traditionally liberal West Coast cities. “In those places where the disease is progressing, God made a divine penicillin,” Kusakin said.

In Latvia, the movement is openly violent toward gays and lesbians; it is increasingly becoming so in the United States as well. Members have assaulted gays and lesbians at gay pride events in the Sacramento area. A lesbian photographer was dragged through a Portland church by her hair by one of the movement’s chief spokesmen.

Then on July 1, a group of Russian-speaking picnickers at Lake Natoma noticed that one member of a group two picnic tables away was an effeminate man without a female date, though the others at the table were three married couples.

According to multiple witnesses, the men began loudly harassing Singh and his friends, calling them “7-Eleven workers” and “Sodomites.” The Slavic men bragged about belonging to a Russian evangelical church and told Singh that he should go to a “good church” like theirs. According to Singh’s friends, the harassers sent their wives and children home, then used their cell phones to summon several more Slavic men. The members of Singh’s party, which included a woman six months pregnant, became afraid and tried to leave. But the Russian-speaking men blocked them with their bodies.

The pregnant woman said she didn’t want to fight them.

“We don’t want to fight you either,” one of them replied in English. “We just want your faggot friend.”

One of the Slavic men then sucker-punched Singh in the head. He fell to the ground, unconscious and bleeding. The assailants drove off in a green sedan and red sports car, hurling bottles at Singh’s friends to prevent them from jotting down the license plate. Singh suffered a brain hemorrhage. By the next day, hospital tests confirmed that he was clinically brain dead. His family agreed to remove him from artificial life support July 5.

Scott Lively, the above-mentioned lesbian-dragging spokesman, is the co-author of The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party.

Published in 1995, the book is a breathtaking work of Holocaust revisionism. It asserts that Hitler was gay — a claim no serious historian supports — and that Hitler and other evil gay fascists were central in forming the Nazi Party, operating the Third Reich and orchestrating the Holocaust. (Lively’s most recent book, The Poisoned Stream, similarly details “a dark and powerful homosexual presence” through “the Spanish Inquisition, the French ‘Reign of Terror,’ the era of South African apartheid, and the two centuries of American Slavery.”)

The Watchmen on the Wall seem like one seriously obsessed bunch.

The Watchmen portray the battle against gay rights as nothing less than a biblical clash of civilizations. “The homosexual sexual ethic” and “family-based society” are at war, Lively proclaimed in his letter to the Washington Times. “One must prevail at the expense of the other.”

That sort of militant rhetoric is standard among Watchmen followers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Speaking to his American counterparts in a Watchmen video, a Latvian anti-gay activist intones: “Your generation beat the Nazis, and our country beat the Communists. Together we will defeat the homosexuals!”

Poz/Neg Gathering, Way Back in May

I went to a terrific Billy Club gathering way way back over Memorial Day weekend, one of the best I’ve been to, and I have been sitting on a two-thirds written blog entry about it for months. I am a bad, bad blogger. About time to finish it up.

This gathering was more focused than most of the Billy Club gatherings are. Gatherings are often organized loosely around a theme, but usually the whole schedule is not tightly structured around it. This one, though, was on the general theme of being HIV positive or negative — both personally and in terms of the divide in the gay community. This is the second year we’ve had such a gathering, and we get some grant money from two rural counties to help pay the costs for HIV-positive men from those counties who attend, so since there’s financial support for it, it’s likely to be the usual theme of the Memorial Day gathering as long as they keep helping to pay for it.

Not too surprisingly, then, some of the workshops were a bit didactic. But surprisingly many were not, and in fact I think overall it may have been the least mind-oriented and most body-oriented gathering in a long while, with more workshops in physical movement and physical play and the like than I think I’ve ever seen at one gathering.

All in all, I had a great time and thought it was terrific. Not directly because of the theme — in the late 1980s I fell in love with a man who was already dying of AIDS, and we became very close. It was a very hard relationship to describe in a few words: We were too close to be Just Good Friends and yet not really lovers or partners — we called ourselves “brothers” sometimes. He ended up living with me for six months near the end of his life. The two years that I knew him changed me profoundly. So I’ve already done a lot of my thinking and growing about these issues long ago, and any workshop whose goal is to get me to overcome my fear and/or prejudice against HIV-positive men is about 20 years too late. Been there, stopped doing that.

But even so, I think the somewhat serious theme had the indirect effect of making it a better gathering, or at least more to my taste. And because this was an added gathering to our usual schedule, we couldn’t have it in our usual location, which was already booked for that weekend, and so we held it at a retreat center in Willits.

Inevitably, there were some complaints about the food not being as good as we usually get (which to be honest it wasn’t — one of our members, a professional chef and caterer, usually cooks for us, and he’s amazing, but for this gathering the retreat center’s own staff did the cooking), and there were complaints as well about the place being right off a moderately busy road — not very secluded at all. All true. And a lot of our regulars did not show up, perhaps turned off by the theme or by the location.

On the other hand, a lot of members who don’t often come to gatherings were there, especially many from Mendocino and Santa Cruz counties, many of whom were there with their fees subsidize by some of the county funding. And it seemed to me that the unfamiliar location and the fact that regular gathering-goers were in the minority were precisely the reasons for the sense of vitality and alertness I felt in the air, a sharpness and livelier that I don’t often feel at Billy Club gatherings, which usually have a lazier feel to them. Each of us was making it up as we went along, nobody was on autopilot doing the same thing they always do with the same people they always do it with in the same way they have been doing it for ten or fifteen years, and there was much less of a social divide between newer and older members than there usually is. Also, a much more diverse mix of ages and skin colors and I am guessing socioeconomic class than I generally see at gatherings. All good. Very good.

Sometimes I think I wish that we could serve really basic dull food at all the Billy Club gatherings for a year, and drain the swimming pool and hot tub for a year while we’re at it, just to alienate all those regulars who come primarily for the creature comforts. We’d be left with the people who really care about our community and about spiritual self-exploration and so on.

Yeah, like that would go over swimmingly. Oh well. I can daydream …

The workshops at Poz/Neg, as I said, were very physical. A morning workshop on “contemplative dance” started with a half hour of meditation, followed by a half hour of slow physical warmup and a half hour of free-style dancing. I was a little embarrassed at the idea going into it — I like dancing but I tend to go for the structured sort, ballroom and folk dancing and that kind of thing — and I was surprised at how easily I got into it, and how solidly centered and grounded I felt at the end.

I got in several heart-to-heart talks over the weekend with people I either had never met before or only met once before at last year’s Poz/Neg. I think I like the heart-to-heart talks best of anything at the gatherings. I even spent a couple of hours one evening having a wonderful talk while lying back with an arm around a hunky guy who turned out to be a sex worker by profession. Yow. Sometimes I just have to stop and be amazed at how far I’ve come from my Orange County upbringing.

The Soldier Who Knew Too Much?

This story in Massachusetts’s Patriot Ledger is disturbing: A National Guardswoman, Clara Durkin, who worked with financial accounting in Afghanistan came home to Quincy, Massachusetts, last month on leave. According to her sister,

‘‘She was in the finance unit and she said, ‘I discovered some things I don’t like and I made some enemies because of it.’ Then she said, in her light-hearted way, ‘If anything happens to me, you guys make sure it gets investigated,’’’ [her sister] said. ‘‘But at the time we thought it was said more as a joke.’’”

Two weeks later, back in Afghanistan, she was found dead on her own military base, shot once in the head. An investigation is in progress.

Bearly Made It

Dave sent me the link to this pretty darned amazing story about a bear who was crossing the Rainbow Bridge near Donner Summit, got spooked by some oncoming cars, and jumped over the edge. Somehow instead of plunging to its death, it managed to clutch on to a concrete beam underneath the bridge, dangled for a while by its front paws, pulled itself up somehow, and scrambled onto the beam.

Where it was royally stuck, with nowhere to go but down. And down was an 80-foot drop into a ravine strewn with boulders. Needless to say, it stayed put where it was, and eventually fell asleep on its narrow perch.

The next day a group of volunteers led by an animal control officer executed a seriously cool rescue mission. Whew.

You’ve got to check out the photos. It looks absolutely inevitable that that bear is a goner, and yet it all ends happily. Just amazing.