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Von Ray

Opening-Night CD Playlist

Had a fun opening at Portland Center Stage last night.  I love this theater, the people who work there, and this wonderful city.  And it’s really fun to be performing Ben Franklin: Unplugged again, after several years away from it.  Ben Franklin is great company — and his brilliant historian Claude-Anne Lopez, the heroine of my piece, is a delight to (try to) re-create.

I traditionally make a CD with a mix of songs for the crew that runs each of my shows.  Wasn’t able to figure out how to print out the list of artists, songs, and albums for them at the hotel, so I’m just putting it here.  I was feeling wistful as I put together this mix (missing my family in the Bay Area and around the world, thinking about my late father and my still-very-much-alive mom), but as I went on I found myself adding more songs that were not so incredibly gloomy.

Song, artist, album:

  1. “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” The Mountain Goats, All Hail West Texas.
  2. “The Stoop,” Little Jackie, The Stoop.
  3. “Wild Mountain Thyme,” Penelope Houston, Birdboys.
  4. “Beautiful,” Anna Waronker, Anna.
  5. “Knapsack,” Amy Rigby, Diary of a Mod Housewife.
  6. “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” (cover of a Warren Zevon song), Jill Sobule, The Folk Years, 2003-2003.
  7. “Frank Mills,” Shelly Plimpton (I think — does anyone know?), Hair — Special Anniversary Edition.
  8. “Steve Willoughby,” Vic Chesnutt, West of Rome.
  9. “Carol Brown,” Flight of the Conchords, Single.
  10. “Phantom Pains,” Christine Fellows, Paper Anniversary.
  11. “New Girl,” The Long Winters, When I Pretend To Fall.
  12. “Lord, I Have Made You a Place in my Heart” (cover of a Greg Brown song), Cry Cry Cry, Cry Cry Cry.
  13. “The French Inhaler,” Warren Zevon, Learning To Flinch.
  14. “Victoria,” The Kinks, Arthur.
  15. “Mercury,” Kathleen Edwards, Failer.
  16. “Papa Was a Rodeo,” The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs, Vol. 2.
  17. “Driving Wheel,” T-Bone Burnett, Truth Decay.
  18. “Lazy Eye,” Hem, Rabbit Songs.
  19. “The End of the Tour,” They Might Be Giants, John Henry.
  20. “My Body Is a Cage” (cover of a song by The Arcade Fire), Sara Lov, The Young Eyes (EP).
  21. “Love Is All Around” (cover of the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme), Hüsker Dü, Eight Miles High/Makes No Sense at All (EP).
  22. “Swimming Song” (cover of a song by Loudon Wainwright III), Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Kate & Anna McGarrigle.
  23. “Count on Me” (Demo), Kirsty MacColl, From Croydon to Cuba … An Anthology.
  24. “Time,” Tom Waits, Rain Dogs.
  25. “The Anchor Song,” Björk, Debut.

After the show there was a sweet party in the lobby of the theater.  At one point some performers from Ragtime, the musical that’s playing upstairs, came over to say hi.  There’s no way to get around it: the cast of Ragtime is way better-looking than the cast of Ben Franklin: Unplugged.  On the bright side, I’ll match up my crew, looks-wise, against any other crew in town!

Now I’m off to the gym to burn off 1,000 calories on the aerobic machines, as I promised Von Ray I’d do.  Then another performance tonight.  Wife and son coming to Portland a week from Tuesday!  Trying to line up bicycle tours of the Portland area for while they’re here. …

Peeing and Nothingness

Von Ray, my temporary Portland trainer, wants me to drink a gallon of water a day. That is just about all the water there is in the world!

Greetings from Portland, Ore.!

Yes, Portland Has a Seal

Yes, Portland Has a Seal

I’m just about to do the second preview performance of Ben Franklin: Unplugged at Portland Center Stage.  I’ve been having a great time: the theater staff is amazingly friendly, helpful, and erudite; the first preview audience, last night, was warm and receptive; and, thrillingly, I’ve been able to hang out a bunch with my theatrical collaborator, director David Dower.  (We used to see each other all the time, but then he moved from the Bay Area to work at Arena Stage in Washington D.C., where he’s been doing incredible things — albeit [*sniff*] 3,000 miles away.)

Some quick highlights from my first week here (mostly spent rehearsing):

  • David and I wandered over to a local gym, and I happened to mention that I really missed my Berkeley-based personal trainer Georgia — who has made my life, previously beset by frequent back ailments, so much better.  Almost as if by magic, a trainer named Von Ray appeared.  Within a short time, somehow David and I had both committed to training with Von Ray while we’re here (seven more weeks for me, a few more days for David).  A moment later, I found myself at Whole Foods with Von Ray helping me choose my exact meals for the next few days.  Von Ray is a force of nature: yesterday was “Terrific Tuesday,” today is “Wonderful Wednesday.”  He’s been working our asses off.  Oh, and one other thing: He doesn’t allow cursing!  I said, “Look, Von Ray, I’m from New York!”  No sympathy.  Every time I curse, I have to do 25 pushups.  Yesterday, I had to do 50.  Today I made myself say things like “Jiminy Crickets!”  It felt weird.  Golly.
  • People at the theater told me I needed to check out Stumptown Roasters.  I did, and their coffee does indeed rock.  (As does their music: last time I was in there, I was delighted to hear them playing one of my all-time favorite albums, Television’s Marquee Moon.)
  • Powell’s Books!!!  In a rapidly digitizing world, it is a sensual thrill to wander through their “City of Books” (just a block from my hotel, and from the theater) and pick up actual, physical volumes.  Heaven.  (Plus, given the horrifyingly slow Internet service at my hotel, rather than Google, it’s often faster just to walk over to Powell’s and look something up.  It might even be faster to walk to Tanzania, actually.)

And in two weeks, my wife and son come to visit me here!  And today is the birthday of my youngest brother, Sam (hero of Citizen Josh)!  And Joni Mitchell is playing on my computer’s tinny speakers (“People’s Parties,” one of my favorites), and she still sounds glorious!

Gosh darn, it’s enough to make you want to cuss for joy — but I don’t think my arm muscles can take anymore pushups today.  So I’ll just sip some more Stumptown coffee, run down to get my laundry from the machines downstairs, and prepare for that second preview.  (The official opening is on Friday.)

If you know Portland, I’d love your suggestions for places I should visit. And if you know people who live around here, please suggest that they come visit me at the theater — that would be way, um, friggin’ cool!