Strange Radiation

Andrew Willett, unreliable narrator.

Category: nyc Page 3 of 5


It has been a loooong week. A long few weeks, actually, which is why I haven’t posted a damn thing in nearly a month; but this week has been particularly bonkers.

Got out of the office at 9:30 tonight (although don’t get me wrong; the job is still incredibly fun) with a desperate need to blow off some steam. God bless Randy, my fellow swimmer and dear friend, who has been living an eerily parallel life to my own. He was just as ready to rage as I was. So we started at some ‘mo bar or another in Hell’s Kitchen. After a couple of drinks we got a text message from Booty, who had gone to Pyramid for the Cyndi Lauper spectacular at 1984, their Friday night retro dance extravaganza. Booty, aka Peter, is a hardcore Cyndi fan, despite the fact that her first big single came out when he was… 3, I think. Bring everyone, his note said. Am all alone.

We danced our asses off, although we felt so terribly, terribly old. Before long, the room filled up, and a good time was had by all. “You realize we were about the only people there who actually remember 1984?” asked Randy, much later in the cab uptown. “When those songs were new, most of the people in that room were still breast-feeding. If that.”

He was surely right. Good thing the young’uns had us there to show them how it’s done, then.

Bed now. Long day tomorrow, too.

from the culture desk

Apparently I’ve got a planet in the house of musicals right now. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to see two (2) different big Broadway shows. The first was “Legally Blonde,” which I saw in previews and you should have, too, because I’m not sure it’s worth the full ticket price. It’s pink, it’s intermittently funny, the cast is talented and really really enthusiastic. But the show itself is kind of forgettable. By the next morning I couldn’t remember a single bar of music. Perhaps it would have helped if I’d seen the movie — but Different Bob had, and as much as he adores the film he wasn’t that so crazy about the show either.

Now, “Spring Awakening,” on the other hand. There is a show worth full ticket price. I laughed, I cried, I looked on in amazement at how much the lead actor spits as he enunciates. No, really, I did all three of those things. Somehow my buddy Rich and I ended up in the front row, dead center; in most cases this would be a liability but the staging of the show made these the best seats in the house. What an incredibly talented bunch of kids; and the music (by Duncan Sheik) is great; and the book (a more-or-less verbatim adaptation of the 1891 play by Frank Wedekind), which must have been hugely transgressive in the late 19th century, still contains recognizable human teenagers. Go see that.

But if you are looking for a cheaper ticket — Hey! Twenty bucks! — or something more scientifictional, allow me to make a recommendation. My buddy Manoel Felciano (Tony nominee for his performance as Toby in Sweeney Todd) is producing a one-hour semistaged version of “The Hidden Sky” on May 14 at Joe’s Pub. And you should go see that, too.

“The Hidden Sky” is a musical version of the Ursula K. LeGuin story “The Masters,” from her collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters. The world is old, and changed: some catastrophe in the distant past has veiled the sky in clouds. The theocracy that emerged to salvage some form of civilization has responded to the destruction by banning all scientific thought, all machinery beyond its most simple forms, even all mathematics beyond the most basic operations. But a young woman cannot help but think, and ask: What makes the ball fall? Can the motion of a body in space be predicted? What are the numerical patterns behind the swirling of clouds, the whirling of water?

“The Hidden Sky” is a show that deserves your attention. I first saw it in a similar showcase at Ars Nova last fall. Peter Foley wrote it (with a book by Kate Chisholm), and the music is fabulous. Manoel will be one of the leads, opposite Marya Grandy, who is superfunny and so very talented. Here’s a flyer, to give to friends; but you should buy your ticket today from Joe’s Pub while you can. This show pushes every happy-button I have, and I am more than pleased to evangelize on its behalf. I mean, it has a song in which revelation on the nature of God is accompanied by a chorus singing the Fibonacci sequence. How can you not go?

subway report

Has anybody else seen the shiny new trains running on the N line? They’re, like, the 2.0 version of the trains they introduced a couple years back on the 1/2/3 and 4/5/6 lines, with these supercool dynamic LED route readouts. I rode in one today for perhaps the second time. It has the familiar automated announcements and the wheels sing the pseudo-Somewhere triad of minor sevenths as it pulls out of the station. The new model is called the R-160, and because the internet was created for people who like to talk about obscure topics, it already has an entire page of fan-made expository video footage. Apparently the first tests began last summer; there will be 660 new R-160 cars on the N and Q lines by the end of this year.

New trains are cool.

ny moment #41,842

Ah, New York.

I just got a phone call from someone who has at last found an apartment that she and her husband are excited about renting. Great location, the whole thing. They even bargained a couple hundred off the monthly rent.

Was she thrilled? No. She was guilt-ridden, bewailing the damage she’d done to her immortal soul, her karma, and her good name. Because taking the apartment meant a bad break-up with her broker, who had not helped them find the place. She sent the broker ‘a nice gift’ after breaking the news—and no, I don’t know what it was—but the awful feeling persists.

What this town does to rational people sometimes, I swear.


Weekend of glorious hedonism. Am completely knackered. Going to bed very soon.

However, it would be unfair of me not to briefly discuss the Scissor Sisters show last night at the Madison Square Garden Theater, at least in a few easy-to-digest bullet points. Ergo:

  • I wore the gayest t-shirt I own, because, well, how could one not?
  • We got there in the middle of the first opening band’s set. I never got their name: it was two guys, a keyboard, and a couple of mics. Plus several bottles of beer. The guy at the keyboard didn’t have much to do: he would punch a button every now and then to tell the preprogrammed music to change from Riff A to Riff B, and such. Beyond that he just sort of danced. They were… um…
    You know what? Words fail me here. I mean, there are phrases that could be used—incoherent, drunk, inappropriate lycra bodysuit, bad hair, flail—but they don’t come close to describing the overall effect of being present for the set. In a way, it was like the Sisters were presenting a gift to the crowd. Did you forget your drugs? Here, let us alter your brain chemistry before the show really gets moving.
  • Second opening band: Wigs on Sticks. They were great, and unquestionably superior to the first bunch, but should have trimmed their set by maybe two songs. When they get a website of their own (apparently coming soon) I’ll point ‘em out.
  • Third opening band: DJ Sammy Jo, who made me really really miss Black Rock City. He rocked.
  • The Sisters were great. Full stop. Just as fun as I always knew they’d be.
  • We finally learned the answer to the burning question “What does Ana Matronic do?” It’s not like she does much of the singing on the albums, and she doesn’t play instruments beyond the tambourine or the maracas or the shooka-shooka egg thingy, which don’t count.1 But onstage she handles secondary voice parts that Jake multitracked on the albums. And she is also the—what, hostess? Den mother? Mistress of Ceremonies? Mouthpiece, maybe, providing wry commentary and general foul-mouthed fabulousness. In a short silver lamé dress that made her look, in her words, “like a big ol’ drag queen,” in the best possible way.
  • Although the show attracted an unexpectedly diverse crowd, this was definitely an Event for the NYC homorati. Sitting within six seats of us: Fred Schneider of the B-52’s2 and Justin Bond, better known as Miss Kiki DuRayne.
  • Jake Shears really can go in and out of that kick-ass falsetto for an entire show. (Although I felt that he often needed to be mic’d better than he was during his higher passages. My one complaint about the concert was that the sound was sometimes muddy.) I hope he has a really good voice coach backing him up. He must. Surely he must.
  • Man, was that fun. Oh my god. And Different Bob was, as ever, excellent company.

1 Just ask Jennifer Kimball.

2 [sic]. That apostrophe causes me physical pain every time, but there it is.

the smudge

Ash Wednesday is not a holiday that has any real significance for me personally. But I do enjoy how it changes the feel of the busy city sidewalks, just for a day: the usual crowds of scowling stockbrokers secretaries dentists editors gemologists security guards museum curators et cetera are all going about their business, but every now and then you see one of them with the Smudge. The one that says I took a moment today to think about matters spiritual. Any sign that any of us has carved out a moment from our day for meditation is a good one, I think.

Plus you get to study the various artistic techniques of the city’s clergy. Sometimes the Smudge is crisp and cruciform; other times it just looks like the banker in question was cleaning out the flue on his lunch break. I’m standing in the lobby at Juilliard at the moment, tapping this out on a public terminal as I wait for rehearsal to begin, and on my way here I saw a guy who was doing a spectacular impersonation of the Ace of Clubs.

Which makes one wonder what his particular meditations were about. Atlantic City, maybe. Whatever it was, I hope it brought him a little peace.


The snow is melting. We were excited when we heard it was on its way, because the City has been frozen solid for weeks with nary a flake of nothin’. But when it first started to fall on Wednesday it was already disappointing: hard and granular and not flaky or fluffy in the least. Like having somebody flick the contents of an unflavored sno-cone on your face, very fast, for the whole time you were outside. Still, it piled up on the cars and the newspaper boxes prettily enough, and even if it made lousy snowballs the kids in my building all seemed delighted.
Unfortunately the honeymoon phase never lasts. The boots and trucks and taxis and Chinese-food delivery bicycles rapidly get the whole entropy thing underway, and soon the sidewalks are shin-deep in grey-brown slish. By Wednesday night the intersection of 96th and Broadway was a vast and nauseating lake of Scuzz Margarita.
We watch it go with mixed emotions. End of today, or tomorrow morning at the latest, it’ll be gone again, and we’ll be back in the same stultifying, sinus-cracking deep freeze we had before. (A science moment: when the weather drops below a certain point, iPod headphone cables lose their flexibility. Turn your head too fast and they pop out of your ears, twanging back and forth in mid-air, unable to keep up with you. Re-seating them requires taking your hands out of your pockets, though, so do it quick.)
By night I dream of the beach.

on loving humanity

Most of the time the tabloid papers in this town drive me to despair for the future of the human race. But every now and then I realize that they also make me proud to be a New Yorker. To wit: today’s headlines regarding the crazy astronaut lady and her plan to kidnap (and murder?) a romantic rival.

The New York Post:

Astro-Nut Faces Slay-Bid Rap

The New York Daily News:

Astro-Nut’s Murder Plot is Out of This World

Priceless. The folks at the tabs have got to be on their knees weeping with gratitude over this story. I mean, it’s got everything. Sex! Murder! Bad wigs! Diapers! Unflattering mugshots! Astronauts! Whoo. It’s Christmas in February!

Meanwhile, the debate Just How Icky Are Queers, Anyway? rages on. Recently, the Washington State Supreme Court defended the “reasonable state interest” in restricting the right to marry to those couples capable of producing children. In the interest of protecting this laudable desire from further frivolous legal challenge, the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance has drafted a modest proposal: a ballot initiative that I think any reasonable-minded Washingtonian can get behind.

If passed by Washington voters, the Defense of Marriage Initiative would:

  • add the phrase, “who are capable of having children with one another” to the legal definition of marriage;
  • require that couples married in Washington file proof of procreation within three years of the date of marriage or have their marriage automatically annulled;
  • require that couples married out of state file proof of procreation within three years of the date of marriage or have their marriage classed as “unrecognized;”
  • establish a process for filing proof of procreation; and
  • make it a criminal act for people in an unrecognized marriage to receive marriage benefits.

If I lived in Seattle, I’d be printing out reams of blank petitions on company time right now. Alas, all I can do is make a plea on the behalf of poor defenseless marriages everywhere. Washingtonians, to the barricades! You have nothing to lose but Western Civilization.

JUST TO BE CLEAR: The people behind the ballot measure recognize that the idea is completely insane. They know that it is not what you would call a Good Idea. But it certainly gets their point across, doesn’t it?

collecting and winning

So tonight I achieved a weird milestone I didn’t even realize I was tracking: I have now sung onstage at each of the major performance spaces in Lincoln Center1. I certainly never thought it would happen. But last week a seriously cool gig fell out of the sky and into the laps of a small group from the Juilliard Choral Union, and tonight it came to pass: I sang onstage at the Metropolitan Opera House, backing up Kristin Chenoweth.

I’m gonna say that again: I sang at the Met. At Kristin Chenoweth’s big recital. Packed house, tickets that cost the moon and stars. She was amazing—as a number of people whose opinions I respect said this evening, “She is the real deal.” Operetta, Broadway, even a Styx tune: she sang the hell outta all of it. And she’s funny, and she’s beautiful, and she seems very nice and very real.

Her encores were “Glitter and Be Gay” from Candide, which in her hands was both hilarious and pyrotechnic; and “What Makes Me Love Him?” from The Apple Tree, the show she’s doing right now at Studio 54. I had no interest in seeing The Apple Tree. I’m broke as all hell right now. But that song was so… so sweet, so romantic, so touching, so perfect that I think I’m going to try to land a cheap ticket somehow, just to hear her sing it again.

And best of all? If she was aware that I was one of those black-hearted folks who sent her to the bottom of the ocean back in July, she showed no grudge. Thanks, KC.

Singing at the Met was a fabulous thing. The huge hall, the cavernous backstage, the biiig curtains—all awesome. The experience was a lot like singing at Carnegie that way: I’d be in my blasé ‘ho hum, it’s another gig with the chorus’ headspace, and then I’d snap to and realize where I was and why. The JCU can be a lot of work, and it sometimes takes up a huge chunk of my personal time. But damned if it hasn’t presented me with a lot of amazing experiences in return. Thanks, Juilliard!

1 That would be, from south to north: the New York State Theater, the Metropolitan Opera House, and Avery Fisher Hall. For those of you not in New York. I’ve also performed in a few of its minor spaces—Rose Hall (Jazz at Lincoln Center), and Alice Tully Hall and the Juilliard Theater, which are part of the Juilliard School.

ny moment #41,215

I had a famous-person sighting on the sidewalk today as I was off to grab some lunch: “Gilbert Gottfried”: I am pleased to report that I maintained the cool detachment that befits a New Yorker, and thereby did not give him the smacking he so richly deserves.

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