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Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?

Running Lines

I’m in a nice hotel room in the Boston area.  It’s late-ish, but my body is running on Pacific Time, plus I’ve been drinking lots of coffee, so I’m not sleepy.

Tomorrow and Sunday I’ll be doing my Andy Warhol show — info here.  Since the last time I performed it, in Santa Fe, I’ve done Citizen Josh and The Mathematics of Change, so I need to get Warhol back in my body and synapses.

It usually takes me one run-through to bring a show back to life for myself.  As I run it, I feel the shape of the whole show coming back to me, like a puzzle fitting together.  Before the run-through, the piece feels like something of a stranger — almost as if it could be someone else’s show.

In a sense, each monologue is someone else’s show — it’s a reflection of the person I was (and my collaborator/director was) when I created it.  The “me” of Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? is still pretty much who I am now, though the Jewish journey that I am on was only beginning when that show was created.  Now I’m preparing for my bar mitzvah this summer — in Israel, no less — and the Warhol me sits inside of the current me, a bit like a Russian doll inside another Russian doll (albeit a bald doll).  All those other me’s are in there too — giving shape(s) to an otherwise amorphous self.

Because the actual me is unenclosed in a story, unobserved (for the most part) by an audience.  That me is I don’t know who, exactly.  So what I am about to do in this hotel room is get into character, to cross the border from being to portraying, and it’s exciting, and also unsettling.  Like Bruce Banner about to turn into the Hulk, on purpose, only with less green, and fewer muscles, and more pronouns.

Do You Know the Way to Santa Fe?

I realize that the song actually refers to another city (and apparently didn’t have a question mark in the title), but ever since I was flying out here, I’ve had Dionne Warwick singing this version in my head — and there are worse things to be suffering from!

I’ll be performing Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? (with a question mark in the title) tonight (Fri.) and Saturday at 7 p.m., at the lovely Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe.  Tix & info here.

My pal Ben Folstein, as usual, is rocking the tech, and the theater staff is incredibly friendly.  (I just came back from our “cue-to-cue” rehearsal.)  Here’s the track list for the music mix CD I’ve made for them:

  1. Little Jackie, “The Stoop”
  2. Jill Sobule & John Doe, “Never My Love” (covering a song first recorded by The Association)
  3. Benji Hughes, “Dad”
  4. Buke & Gass, “Sleep Gets Your Ghost”
  5. Danielson, “Moment Soakers”
  6. The Fiery Furnaces, “Lost at Sea”
  7. Aimee Mann, “Long Shot”
  8. Regina Spektor, “Better”
  9. Los Campesinos!, “You! Me! Dancing!”
  10. Eddy Current Suppression Ring, “Rush To Relax”
  11. Steve Earle, “Transcendental Blues”
  12. Quasi, “Little White Horse”
  13. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, “Up from Below”
  14. Big Star, “The Ballad of El Goodo”
  15. Lucinda Williams, “Essence” (live)
  16. Randy Newman, “Cowboy” (live)
  17. Guided by Voices, “Girls of Wild Strawberries” (live)

“Warhol” Rises in Phoenix!

1277980392-warholbanner2My show Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? opens tonight at the magnificent Actors Theatre of Phoenix (through March 20). Tix and info here.

Arizona is … different.  The doors to the theater have placards that say, “No Weapons.  No Smoking.”  I think my usual audience members will take this as a sign to leave their crossbows at home.

I like to make a mix CD for my crew on opening night.  Here (because I haven’t figured out yet how to print stuff at my hotel) is tonight’s mix:

  1. Janelle Monáe, “Tightrope”
  2. Big Star, “Thirteen”
  3. Josh Rouse, “Valencia”
  4. Prince (covering Joni Mitchell), “A Case of You”
  5. The Waterboys, “Fisherman’s Blues”
  6. Spoon, “Written in Reverse”
  7. Sufjan Stevens, “To Be Alone with You”
  8. Black Kids, “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance with You”
  9. Lizz Wright (covering Neil Young), “Old Man”
  10. The Mountain Goats, “Dance Music”
  11. Little Jackie, “LOL”
  12. Ida Maria, “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked”
  13. Destroyer, “My Favorite Year”
  14. Steve Earle, “The Galway Girl”
  15. The Decemberists, “Of Angels and Angles”
  16. Benji Hughes, “I Went with Some Friends To See the Flaming Lips”
  17. Buke and Gass, “Your Face Left Before You”
  18. Danielson, “Did I Step on Your Trumpet?”
  19. Abigail Washburn, “Bring Me My Queen”
  20. David Byrne, “In the Future”

And yes, Apple Corporation, I am well aware that these CD’s are for my personal use!  Thanks for caring.

P.S.: Here are the pre-show and post-show mixes that I put together for our audiences (with help, as always, from my pal Scott Rosenberg, along with tips from my Twitter and Facebook friends):

Pre-show:

  1. Dion, “The Wanderer”
  2. The Kinks, “Strangers”
  3. M.I.A., “Paper Planes”
  4. The Doors, “People are Strange”
  5. The Clash, “Lost in the Supermarket”
  6. John Cale & Lou Reed, “Smalltown”
  7. David Bowie, “Andy Warhol”
  8. R.E.M. (covering a Wire song), “Strange”
  9. Pete Townshend, “Let My Love Open the Door”
  10. The Submarines, “You, Me and the Bourgeoisie”
  11. Nirvana (covering David Bowie), “The Man Who Sold the World”
  12. Public Image Ltd., “Public Image”
  13. Johnny Cash & U2, “The Wanderer”
  14. Bryan Ferry (covering Bob Dylan), “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
  15. The Rolling Stones (covering The Temptations), “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)”
  16. They Might Be Giants, “The Statue Got Me High”
  17. The Mountain Goats, “Jaipur”
  18. Ida Maria, “Oh My God”
  19. Amy Rigby, “Knapsack”

Post-show:

  1. Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong (covering a song by George & Ira Gershwin), “It Ain’t Necessarily So”
  2. The Velvet Underground & Nico, “I’ll Be Your Mirror”
  3. The Slip, “Suffocation Keep”
  4. Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter, “Your Side Now”
  5. Martha Wainwright (covering a song by Ralph Vaughan Williams & Robert Louis Stevenson), “Whither Must I Wander?”
  6. T-Bone Burnett, “I’m Coming Home”
  7. Cantor Jordan S. Franzel, “Torah Blessing”
  8. Jill Sobule (covering Warren Zevon), “Don’t Let Us Get Sick”

At It Again

awgftjHad a lovely time last night at the opening performance of my run of Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? at the Ashby Stage in Berkeley.  (The run — tix and info here — goes through Feb. 27.)  Monologues are what I do, and there is an extent to which I don’t feel fully myself (professionally speaking) when I’m not performing onstage.  Entering the world of a story takes me into a kind of altered state: time is compressed, and for a couple of hours I’m not as incredibly scattered as I feel most of the time.  Plus, I get free coffee at the theater!

The postshow talkback, with my friend Rabbi Menachem Creditor and my new friends Rabbi Dorothy Richman (who came out in favor of Zeus, kind of!) and Maggid Jhos Singer, was an extraordinary experience for me — and, I think, for the audience.  Once I figure out how to post audio here, I’ll try to add a recording of the conversation.  (For a listing of the remaining talkbacks, click here.)

Andy Warhol: Good for Mill Valley?

Well, you can find out this Friday and Saturday, Aug. 6 and 7, when I’ll be doing my latest monologue, Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?, at the lovely 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Marin County’s very own Mill Valley.  Both performances are at 8 p.m.  For tix and info, click here.

Andy Warhol: Good for Marin?

We’ll find out, as I’ll be doing my show Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley on Aug. 6 and 7.

Not sure whether the high-school-aged daughter of the owners will home-bake chocolate-chip cookies for concessions, as happened the last time I was there.  That was a few years ago — and the way time has been zipping along lately, she’s probably a postdoc by now.  Also not certain whether to expect tasty candied ginger again in the greenroom.  But I’m pretty confident that the atmosphere will be relaxed and convivial, as it always has been in this place: I’ve never not had a great time there.

You can get tickets and info here.

Abdel at the Gym

Ask anyone: Socially, I’m not at my best when I’m taking a shower.  This is mostly because I can’t see anything with my glasses off.  But I do think a lot.  And a couple days ago, while showering at the gym, I was thinking about the Contemporary Jewish Museum, which originally commissioned my piece Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews? Some of my favorite people there have been the guards — and my favorite guard was a guy named Abdel.  He’s from Algeria, and is pretty much always smiling; when I ran into him while working on the Warhol piece — typically he stood in front of the gift shop — he invariably eased my worries.  One time I did a photo shoot at the museum in which I ran around with a Warhol wig on my head; that’s when he started calling me “Andy.”  Subsequently, he’d say stuff like, “Andy, why have you come back from the dead?”  I’d reply with something like, “I missed all you living people.”  And he would nod in agreement: that made sense to him.

I ended up putting Abdel in my piece, but wasn’t able to invite him to see it — as by the time I was performing the (relatively) finished show at The Jewish Theatre San Francisco, he had left the CJM.  I heard from my pal Dan Schifrin at the CJM (another “character” in the monologue) that Abdel was now working as a guard at Alcatraz — which struck me as containing just the right amount of irony for this playful spirit.  And then, shortly before the TJT run, I actually ran into Abdel in downtown Berkeley.  He told me that he’d moved on from Alcatraz (not always easy to do!) and now had a nice desk job with Social Security (I think).  I invited him to my show, but he explained that he was about to travel back to Algeria for a few months.

So here I was, taking a shower at the Y the other day, and I heard a voice: “Josh!”  I tried peering across at the swim-trunked figure across the shower room, but he was too blurry to make out.  “It’s Abdel!” he explained.  And I thought — well, I thought a couple of things.  One is that I definitely wasn’t wearing that Warhol wig.  And the other is that is was so good to hear a friendly — and totally unexpected — voice.  (I had no idea he went to my gym.)  And, as it had generally been at the museum, the timing of my encounter with Abdel was especially welcome — in this case, because my thoughts at the gym that day had been unusually morbid, even for me.  Earlier I’d heard that someone (a woman, apparently) had committed suicide at the gym, in one of the bathrooms; she had hanged herself.  And without meaning to, during my subsequent liftings and groanings and sweatings I’d found myself thinking dark thoughts of mortality.  While stretching in front of a mirror, I had one of those occasional moments when the finiteness of my life, and of my loved ones’, vibrated out of the background blur and snapped firmly into position before my eyes.  And all those things I haven’t done that I should do, they relaxed for a while, knowing that I’d taken one of my rare breaks from my preoccupation with them to attend to other matters.

By the time I was showering, I probably had things pretty much under control — it’s helpful not to be able to see the world, for a while — but when Abdel spoke, he made a connection.  And this connection instantly pulled me out of myself — well, at least part-way.  He told me he was back from Algeria; and I told him the run had gone well.  And the morbid beast who’d been stretching a few minutes earlier was now merely a blind and clumsy animal with a nice little story to tell when he got home.

Extended (and with a Discount, no less)!

Yay!  The run of my new comic monologue, Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?, at The Jewish Theatre San Francisco has been extended through June 20.  You can buy tix here.  And to get a 50 percent discount — for this week’s shows only (May 27-30) — just call their box office at 415.292.1233 and say the code “TJT50.”

The nice folks at TJT — who are celebrating their having just been voted the best theater of 2010 by San Francisco Magazine — did a sweet promo video for the extension.  Here it is:

Opening-Night Playlists

Treble ClefAndy Warhol: Good for the Jews?, my latest collaboration with director David Dower, opens tonight (March 10) at Theater J in Washington D.C., and runs here through March 21.  For each of my shows, with the help of my friends (always including Scott Rosenberg, and this time also including great suggestions from my Facebook and Twitter peeps), I put together pre- and post-show playlists of songs that relate (sometimes very tangentially) to the themes of the piece.  I don’t care as much about these playlists as I do about the shows themselves, but I still care a lot: My adolescence was made livable by WNEW-FM, which allowed its deejays to play whatever they wanted — and the way they put together eclectic sets of music that they loved (especially my favorite, Vinnie “Bayonne Butch” Scelsa) delighted and educated me.  When we first became friends in Boston in the ’80s, Scott would put together mixtapes for me: In particular, I remember listening to one — which included a great Jonathan Richman song — as I walked in the early morning along Commonwealth Ave. after my father had died.  In those lonely hours, I popped Scott’s tape into my Walkman and learned that there still was joy and beauty in the world.

Anyhow, here’s the pre-show playlist for tonight (including such themes as wandering, commerce, strangers and strangeness, doors, imagination, God, art, knapsacks, and Andy Warhol himself):

  • Dion, “The Wanderer”
  • M.I.A., “Paper Planes”
  • The Doors, “People Are Strange” (a twofer!)
  • The Clash, “Lost in the Supermarket”
  • John Cale & Lou Reed, “Smalltown” (from Songs for Drella, their album about Warhol)
  • Johnny Cash & U2, “The Wanderer”
  • David Bowie, “Andy Warhol”
  • R.E.M., cover of The Wire’s “Strange”
  • Pete Townshend, “Let My Love Open the Door”
  • The Submarines, “You, Me and the Bourgeoisie”
  • Nirvana, cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World”
  • Public Image Ltd., “Public Image”
  • Bryan Ferry, cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
  • The Rolling Stones, cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)”
  • They Might Be Giants, “The Statue Got Me High”
  • The Mountain Goats, “Jaipur”
  • Ida Maria, “Oh My God”
  • Amy Rigby, “Knapsack”

And here’s the post-show mix:

  • The Velvet Underground & Nico: “I’ll Be Your Mirror”
  • The Kinks, “Strangers”
  • The Slip, “Suffocation Keep”
  • Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, “Your Side Now”
  • Martha Wainwright, “Whither Shall I Wander?” (R.I.P. her genius mom, Kate McGarrigle)
  • T-Bone Burnett, “I’m Coming Home”
  • Cantor Jordan S. Franzel, “Torah Blessing” (which sounds remarkably similar to “It Ain’t Necessarily So”)
  • Jill Sobule, cover of Warren Zevon’s “Don’t Let Us Get Sick”

Feel free to offer me more suggestions — these playlists tend to keep evolving!

Beginning to See the Light

Rabbi David Jonathan Cooper

Rabbi David Jonathan Cooper

I think maybe — maybe — I’m starting to pick up the faint outlines of what my new piece, Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?, wants to be.  A lot of this has to do with the fact that my director/collaborator, David Dower, has been focusing on it the past few days, and we had a nice talk on the phone about it recently.  (You can join part of our collaboration, via Twitter, by following warholjew and WarholDir.)  Also, I had a great, long conversation with my producer, Jonny Reinis, yesterday about Warhol and Jews and Martin Buber (one of the 10 subjects of Warhol’s “Jewish Geniuses” portraits) and Existentialism — you know, the usual stuff performers talk about with their producers.  And I’ve been having some fascinating exchanges with two brilliant and freaky Berkeley rabbis, Menachem Creditor of Congregation Netivot Shalom and David Jonathan Cooper of Kehilla Community Synagogue.  Plus I’ve been reading lots of cool stuff, including a book that I just happened to find in the Judaica section at Half Price Books in Berkeley: Martin Buber: An Intimate Portrait, by Aubrey Hodes — the first account I’ve discovered that actually conveys Buber’s ideas in what I could firmly call the English language.  Not to mention that, despite my stark fear that I would bum them out on a celebratory occasion, I managed to do an improv towards the Warhol piece at a Berkeley Hadassah benefit last weekend.  And you could toss in the long conversation I had with my mom yesterday about our Jewishness (or lack of same) — which included her delivery of this classically Jewish-type sentiment: “Well, I thought they should have founded Israel in South America — but no one asked me!

But I’d have to say that mostly, it’s this: For the first time, really, as I try to explore Buber’s concept of “I and Thou” and relate it to my own experiences, I’m thinking about not just the “thou” but also the “I.”  Who is he?  What does he want?  What’s he so afraid of?  The next step, I suppose, is to track him down.  If I make any headway, I’ll let you — or thou — know.