Thursday, December 23, 2010


God above who sees our pain
Send us love like pouring rain
Send us strength to face the blow
Now we let our brother go

Death’s a drink we all must taste
Life the meal that goes to waste
Sound the music, soft and low
Now we let our brother go

God who loves the holy fool
Seat him at your corner stool
Let the taps of heaven flow
Now we let our brother go

Gary’s song on earth is done
All his races have been won
All his ducks are in a row
Now we let our brother go

Time may push us all apart
But we’ll keep him in our heart
And, through happiness and woe,
Never let our brother go

Copyright 2010 Matthew J Wells

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Time - The 2010 Holiday Compilation

Compiling this year's Christmas comp was like writing a play. It had a time limit (80 minutes), a format restriction (25 songs) and a theme(drinking). Like a play, I knew exactly what I wanted it to sound like. And like a play, it had ideas of its own about what it wanted to sound like. So the 12/3 first draft list of bar songs and singalongs slowly became the 12/14 list you see below, with nary a bar song or a singalong in it. Not any of the original singalongs, anyway. There are definitely a few numbers below that I have been singing to myself as I brave the February cold that's covered New York these past few days.

So this is the music mix that worked its way out through me, rather than the mix I originally wanted to make. It's constructed the usual way my mixes are--starting out fast and loud, slowing down in the middle, and then rising back up to fast and loud again at the end. That particular construction is, for me, as formal as a sonnet. But this one feels different somehow. Even the fast and loud stuff has a rueful edge, and as for the midsection, it's epitomized by the refrain from Winter's Song, which has haunted me since I first heard it: "Is love alive? Is love alive? Is love alive?" Sadly, it's not a rhetorical question. It's a question we have to answer every day of our lives. The best way we can answer it is by doing something to embody that answer--to say "Yes" with an affirming act--as many times as it takes until, in our daily lives, that question does become rhetorical. Me, I like to think that one of the surest ways to do that is, to paraphrase Dickens, by honoring the spirit of Christmas in our hearts and trying to keep it all the year.

Here endeth the sermon and beginneth the psalms. Or in this case, the carols. This year's set list:

1 Christmas Time - The BoDeans
2 Wild-Eyed Christmas Night - 38 Special
3 Jingle My Bells - The Tractors
4 Jingle Bells - The Puppini Sisters
5 You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch - Whirling Dervishes
6 Merry Christmas Baby - The Smithereens
7 Merry Christmas Loopy Lu - The Kaisers
8 O Come All Ye Faithful Surfer Girls - The Chevelles
9 Le Cantique de Noël - Royskopp
10 All I Want for Christmas (Is New Year’s Eve) - Hurts
11 Northern Star - Dave Doobinin
12 Winter Song - Sarah Bartielles and Ingrid Michaelson
13 All That I Want - The Weepies
14 Get Down For The Holidays - Jenny O
15 Christmas Isn’t Christmas - the boy least likely to
16 All I Want is Truth (for Christmas) - The Mynabirds
17 Unwrap Me - Saint Etienne
18 Walnuts and Rice - Kevin Briody
19 Talking Christmas Goodwill Blues - John Wesley Harding
20 Holiday Road - Matt Pond PA
21 Spotlight on Christmas - Rufus Wainwright
22 Mrs. Claus Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Me - Little Jackie
23 Merry Christmas, Baby - The Bellrays
24 Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - Slow Club
25 PP Haine - France de Griessen

Here's the download link for a zip file of all the songs:

Christmas Time - The 2010 Holiday Compilation

You can find last year's comp, with song-by-song downloads, here:

Santa Claus Needs Some Lovin'

And as a holiday bonus, here's a link to a zip file of the first comp I did in 2001:

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Songs For A Tuesday Morning 12-14-10

And then there are Tuesdays when you wonder what it's all for, when everything seems pointless and stupid and hopeless and you're such a mess that there are a dozen different people inside you who pop out at various times with no warning at all. In my case today, it's Sad Matthew, Barking Matt, Lonely Matty, Leave Me Alone Matty, and Fuck Everybody But Matthew, and that was just since 6AM. Oh yeah--and Mechanical Matt, who woke up and showered and got dressed and walked into work. I'm assuming. Since neither I nor any of my other personalities have any memory of that at all.

On Tuesdays like this, Hope is a heavier weight to carry than Despair, because Despair has wings, Despair can fly far far away while Hope has to walk, step by step, with the world on its shoulders. So on Tuesdays like this, the only way to lighten that burden is to crank it up loud and let Hope dance all over Despair like, well, like a bunch of neglected Brits from the 80's:

Birth School Work Death - The Godfathers

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Last night I dreamed you flew over my bed

Last night I dreamed you flew over my bed,
Half-bird half-cat, all fur and feather wings,
And landed softly on my sleeping head
And stroked my face the way Sinatra sings.
You hopped onto my chest and nestled there.
I came awake. I purred too when I saw
Your wide cat eyes. I reached to stroke your hair.
You flicked your tail and with your soft small paw
You clawed my eyes out, and I heard you purr:
“I am the last thing you will ever see.”
One cheek felt wing, the other cheek felt fur.
Your warm face nuzzled my face yearningly,
Your rough tongue licked me, and away you flew,
Leaving me blind to everything but you.

Copyright 2010 Matthew J Wells

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Songs For A Tuesday Morning - Pearl Harbor Edition

Tuesday. The day that will live in infamy. And doubly so since today is Pearl Harbor Day. (Does that mean the rest of the week is made up of days that will die in outfamy?) (Sorry; just channeling my inner Groucho.)

Today's Tuesday song is appropriate to both the day and the occasion. It's by these guys:

It's the first song on the killer first side of Graham Parker's Squeezing Out Sparks, which gets my vote as one of the top ten perfect sides in rock. Five songs and every one of them a classic: "Discovering Japan," "Local Girls," "Nobody Hurts You," "You Can't Be Too Strong," and "Passion Is No Ordinary Word." Here's the first one. And if you know this album and you're like me, you won't be able to listen to this without wanting to hear the next four in sequence.

Play it loud, and try to get through the day without bombing Hawaii.

Discovering Japan - Graham Parker and The Rumour

Sunday, December 5, 2010

December 8, 2010: An Anniversary Worth Celebrating

The first recorded performance of a woman actor playing a female part on the British stage occurred on the afternoon of Saturday, December 8, 1660. Before a performance of Othello, an actor in Tom Killegrew’s King’s Company stepped onto the stage of the Vere Street theatre and delivered the following prologue, written by Thomas Jordan:

“I came unknown to any of the rest,
To tell the news; I saw the lady drest:
The woman plays to-day; mistake me not
No man in gown, or page in petticoat:
A woman to my knowledge, yet I can’t,
If I should die, make affidavit on’t.
Do you not twitter, gentlemen? I know
You will be censuring: do it fairly, though;
’Tis possible a virtuous woman may
Abhor all sorts of looseness, and yet play;
Play on the stage—where all eyes are upon her:
Shall we count that a crime France counts an honour?
. . . . .
But to the point:—in this reforming age
We have intents to civilise the stage.
Our women are defective, and so sized,
You’d think they were some of the guard disguised;
For to speak truth, men act, that are between
Forty and fifty, wenches of fifteen;
With bone so large, and nerve so incompliant,
When you call Desdemona, enter giant."

At the end of the performance, there was a brief epilogue which also celebrated the occasion. Who delivered these speeches? Nobody knows. I like to think it was Tom Killegrew himself. Makes sense, right? In any event, I said that this was the first “recorded” performance of a woman playing a woman because there are earlier instances--in 1656, for example, a woman known only as Mrs Coleman was paid to play the part of Ianthe in William Davenant’s The Siege of Rhodes. (That epithet “Mrs,” by the way, was pronounced “Mistress.”) And the actual directive from Charles II to henceforth have all female roles played by women was part of the August 21, 1660, charter issued to Tom Killegrew’s King’s Company and William Davenant’s Duke’s Company, so there’s a very good chance that as early as, oh, October or November, there were women treading the British boards, in compliance with that warrant’s demand that “plays might be esteemed not only harmless delights but useful and instructive representatives of human life.”

As for the name of the woman who played Desdemona, there are three candidates. Anne Marshall was Killigrew’s leading actress, and it’s known that she played the part later in her career. Margaret Hughes, Killegrew’s second female lead, gets the most scholarly votes, though she was quite probably the one playing Emilia. And Katharine Corey gets her own vote, thanks to a 1689 petition to the Lord Chamberlain in which she styled herself as “the first and the last of all the actresses that were constituted by King Charles II at His Restoration.” If the opinion of modern artists can be entered into this debate, Mrs Hughes wins in a landslide: she’s the female lead in Jeffrey Hatchers’s play Compleat Female Stage Beauty, which you may be familiar with in its filmic incarnation, Stage Beauty, known forever in the tabloids as That Movie Where Claire Danes Seduced Billy Crudup Away From A Pregnant Mary Louise Parker.

Margaret Hughes

Whoever the actress was, when Jordan writes in his prologue the words “I saw the lady drest,” he was speaking the literal truth. In 1660, the Vere Street theatre had its tiring room above and behind the stage proper. There were individual dressing rooms for the stars, an area for the men to change and gather, and what was called the women’s shift for the female actors. And this was not a private room; on the contrary, anybody was allowed to enter. You could actually walk backstage to the women’s shift at any time before or during a performance, and watch Ellen Gwynn bitch about how small the house was in the foulest terms possible while she threw a faux gold gown over her sweat-stained chemise. Off in the corner, you might see Samuel Pepys with Mrs Knepp in his lap, towsing away at the pretty little thing while she reviewed her lines for the next scene, or be brushed aside by the Earl of Oxford as he paid court to his Roxalana, Helen Davenport, while not six inches away Elizabeth Farley was using the chamber pot.

Welcome to the Restoration, ladies and gents: the age when England got sick and tired of its shotgun marriage to Puritanism and started openly taking mistresses; the age when gallants would lie in bed devising impromptus before they rose for their daily ablutions, and women wore dresses and blouses with necklines that exposed everything from nape to navel, but God forbid they ever showed their ankles. It was an age which created plays in which everybody is always hiding in closets, or delivering the wrong documents, or disguising themselves as maids and servants, or loudly revealing secrets to people eavesdropping in closets. These plays created a self-contained theatrical world in which, to quote James Branch Cabell, “monetary competence and happiness and all-important documents, as well as a sudden turn for heroic verse, were regularly accorded to everybody toward eleven o’clock in the evening.” An age in which was born the woeful custom of cutting and rewriting the tragedies of Shakespeare to fit a much more comforting definition of the word “tragic.” Which is why, if you attended that famous December performance of Othello at Vere Street, there’s a better than even chance that you would have seen Desdemona survive the play to marry Cassio.

Ellen Gwynn, aka Nell, looking like a young Elsa Lanchester.

An odd age, at one and the same time instantly recognizable and totally foreign. Take the word “towsing” which I used above. Towsing is a slang term which is found all over Restoration plays and stage directions, a word whose meaning corresponds to the modern expression “Russian hands and Roman fingers.” To be blunt, it means playing with a woman’s breasts, an enterprise which was totally encouraged by the age’s fashion for upper-body denudation. (Breasts? No problem. Just don’t ever, ever reveal an ankle.) There’s always the question of how much a contemporary play reflects or reveals contemporary life, but the frequency of stage directions like “(Towses her)” or “(Feeling ‘em and sneering)” makes you think that, if public groping wasn’t happening all the time, it sure was something those randy playwrights wanted to see happening. What makes it more probable that it was a reflection and not wish fulfillment? The two plays from which I took those stage directions, The Town-Foppe and The Round Heads, were written by a woman, Aphra Behn. So add to your view of the Restoration the picture of a woman forced by the current fashion to wear the kind of seductive attire that guarantees she will be submitting to or fighting off the groping advances of every man who comes within arm’s length of her. And then multiply those advances by five if she’s an actor.

Who taught these groper-plagued women their theatrical craft? No one knows. Men, probably, at least in the beginning. Did the leading women of the King’s and the Duke’s take on apprentices, the way the leading men did? No one knows. Elizabeth Barry is said to have been tutored by the infamous John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester. If so, at least one of them was a genius, for Mrs Barry was acknowledged during her lifetime to be the Judi Dench of her generation. Personally, I’d give the nod to Barry over Rochester. It may be the hands of Michelangelo which reveal it, but it is the hunk of marble that contains the statue.

And statues, alas, are the one of the many things these women did not leave behind. Even the greatest of theatre lovers would be hard pressed to name six of these pioneers, which is why I am listing below the names of more than two dozen women who performed on a London stage between 1660 and 1690. They are the (mothers? godmothers? stage mothers?) of every English-speaking girl who has ever played or dreamed of playing Desdemona, or Rosalinde, or Beatrice, or Viola. All of them made a living out of acting on the stage. Many of them had a hard time of it. Some of them are only names. But none of them should ever be forgotten.

Maria Allison
Elizabeth Barry
Mary Saunderson Betterton
Elizabeth Boutell
Anne Bracegirdle
Charlotte Butler
Katherine Corey
Elizabeth Currer
Hester Davenport
Moll Davis
Elizabeth Farley
Ellen Gwynn
Margaret Hughes
Mary Knepp
Frances Maria Knight
Mary Aldridge Lee, Lady Slingsby
Elinore Leigh
Jane Long
Anne Marshall Quin
Rebecca Marshall
Mrs Norris
(first name unknown, like so many others)
Susanna Perceval Mountfort Verbruggen
Anne Reeves
Margaret Rutter
Elizabeth Slade
Mrs Twyford
(first name unknown)