Maybe it’s because I’m a fan of Spalding Gray or because
I’ve fought a lifelong battle with depression or because I have an appreciation
for what it takes to make exceptional theater, but there is something sublimely
poetic and satisfying about John Penner’s piece on Gray’s Houston performance
[“The Incredible Shrinking Man,” April 9–15].
I don’t know what happened in Houston. Was it a broken man coming apart onstage or a brilliant artist’s ultimate next-to-last act? Or both? What it does seem to have been, though, was a near-perfect union of performer and audience in a spontaneous creation of art — one of those magical moments that can only happen in theater, where time stands still, where what you’re experiencing at that moment has such rawness that it makes everything that happened before seem superficial. I’m sure some of the “good Republican Houstonians” who jeered and walked out got that, even if it took Gray’s epilogue last month to help them along toward appreciation. Thanks to Mr. Penner’s compassionate, lean prose, I got to witness that moment in time.
I was the third person to be “interviewed” by Spalding during his show at Houston’s Cullen Theater. Contrary to Mr. Penner’s account, the audience’s hostility was not a result of anything that Spalding said, either during his opening monologue or his first two interviews. It was a result of what I said in response to his question: “What do you think of the war?” I replied that it was a criminal, illegal and immoral act that had sickened me, and as I began to explain what I meant, the audience erupted in boos and hisses, which got worse when I asked them to think about how they would feel if 40 cruise missiles hit downtown Houston. Large numbers of the audience began to walk out. Spalding asked me, “Why are they leaving?” I replied, “Because they’re embarrassed to be faced with what this war is doing to a lot of innocent people.” I then mentioned Donald Rumsfeld, who I described as appearing on television in split screen, declaring that the bombing of Baghdad was not another Dresden, while the images on the other side of the screen showed pictures of downtown Baghdad in flames, with bombs exploding in mushroom clouds. “How do you think that looks to the rest of the world?” The audience responded with more catcalls, boos, hisses and shouts of “What about 9/11?” Spalding kept plaintively asking why the people were leaving, while I kept saying, “This is dissent in Ashcroft’s America.” Finally, Spalding tried to take control by asking, “What question would you like to ask me?” “Do you think Donald Rumsfeld is a sociopath or a psychopath, and is there a difference?” I asked. This triggered even more screams of anger from the audience, and another “This is dissent in Ashcroft’s America” from me. Spalding attempted to calm things down by asking me a few personal questions, which led to a surreal discussion about witches, hexes and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that in turn became a discussion about the death penalty, which led to more boos and hisses when I said, “Yeah, Texas should be real proud of itself. We just killed our 300th this week — but I guess that was nothing but preparation for the real killing in Iraq, right?” The interview ended with me shaking hands with Spalding and saying, “Sorry about that, Spalding.”
I agree with Mr. Penner that the evening was a disaster, though to be honest, I also think it was the most fascinating and disturbing night of theater I’ve ever attended.
Many thanks for the studio-musician stories [“Once
Upon a Session,” April 9–15]. I arrived in L.A. in 1979, at the tail end
of the era Robert Lloyd describes. It was a time when consolidation spelled
the looming end for many of the independent publishers and wildcat producers
who had created the early pop-music business.
I had a chance to see a bit of both worlds at one of the first recording sessions I was involved with by virtue of having written a very corny song slated to be a B-side for a country duo produced by Snuff Garrett. Hal Blaine was the drummer on the date, and when he walked in, he proudly announced to everyone that he had just received in the mail his 125th gold record. The rest of the musicians applauded, whistled and then spent the day recording. Whenever more than two takes were necessary to complete a track, Snuff (who I don’t think played a note on any instrument) growled into the talkback something sarcastic about how all these great “triple-scale players” couldn’t even finish a song. By 6 p.m. the same day, they’d finished 11. (The album, by David Frizzell and Shelley West, was a hit.)
With much respect to the wonderful feature by Robert Lloyd and the separate interviews with Hal Blaine, etc., most of the musicians in the accompanying photos are not identified, especially on the front page. On the cover and Page 26, the Wrecking Crew players are, from left to right, Al DeLory, Carol Kaye, Tommy Tedesco, Irv Rubin, Roy Caton, Steve Douglas, Hal Blaine, Jay Migliori and Ray Pohlman. The insets on the cover are Douglas, Red Callendar and Kaye. On Page 27, from top to bottom, are Leon Russell and Gary Lewis, Mel Taylor and Blaine, and Douglas. On Page 29 is H.B. Barnum, center, with Kaye, Blaine and unknown others. Lastly, on Page 37, from left to right, are James Burton and Glen Campbell, along with Sid Sharp, center, and his studio string section. All the uncredited photos are from the Hal Blaine Archive/Collection. Otherwise, great job!
—Robert Leslie Dean
I’m scandalized that Robert Lloyd’s otherwise excellent article about session musicians fails to mention the omnipresent Brazilian percussionist Paulinho da Costa, surely the most prolific studio musician in the post–Hal Blaine era.
Editor’s note: Another omission was Mike Lang, who played keyboards on Lumpy Gravy.
With regard to “Joust
in Time” [April 9–15], Howard Blume quotes the developer of the Laguna Senior
Housing facility as saying that both neighborhood councils abutting the project
had “expressed their support.” This is not the case with the Silver Lake Neighborhood
Council (SLNC). At the time Joseph Stalzer approached the SLNC to introduce
the project, we were a council in formation, certified by the city but without
an elected board. We were powerless to take a position. Some months after the
council’s governing board was installed in October, we were approached by our
neighbors at the Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council (GGPNC) to review
the Laguna project. Like our colleagues on the GGPNC, we support the idea of
affordable housing for seniors and special-needs populations in our community.
However, we also share their concern that the project’s design, as proposed,
is out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood. After careful deliberation,
and considerable feedback from our stakeholders, the Silver Lake Neighborhood
Council voted [two weeks ago] to oppose the project as proposed.
Like the orchestrated backlash of nearly 40 neighborhood councils against the Department of Water and Power’s proposed rate hike (which resulted in the City Council ordering a full independent financial review of the department’s need for an increase), this situation presents an interesting new case study in the evolution of the neighborhood-council system. Councilman Eric Garcetti, faced with the opposition of not one but two of his district’s neighborhood councils, must make the difficult choice whether to support our fervent recommendation or to override the will of the community. Given that the Planning Department has already ignored the City Charter’s directive to seek advice from the affected neighborhood councils, we are particularly anxious to hear his position. I can only hope that he casts a vote in favor of the autonomy of neighborhood councils and opposes the current design of the troubled Laguna Senior Housing facility.
Co-Chair, Governing Board
Silver Lake Neighborhood Council
I am the attorney for the Gabrielino/Tongva Tribe. The
losing plaintiffs, who sued the tribe in an attempt to take it over and get
a casino, are referred to in Christine Pelisek’s article [“Casino
Nation,” April 9–15] as a faction of the tribe. Please note that their alleged
tribal group operates a so-called tribal office inside their attorney’s Santa
Monica office. Social services and education for the Tongva Tribe, on the other
hand, operate out of our real tribal offices in San Gabriel.
—Jack L. Schwartz