Tag Archives: Music

Renewal, Part Three: She

Arriving in LA on Sunday night I had dinner with Lili VonSchtupp and Funny Eddie, my best friends. I was so relieved to finally be with them that i must have babbled all night. We had Asian food and went on a pie quest, then I stayed the night at their house and spent the morning in a very long discussion with Lili about a million things. She had to focus on the Hollywood Burlesque Festival that week, so this was really our only chance to catch up. It was awesome, but far too short. I love these people. They are heart and soul to me.

May 22nd – 23rd, 2017

Monday I started my week at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, CA. My … 14th(?) engagement at that amazing establishment. I was greeted with ‘Welcome Home, Mr. Hannibal’ as I was ushered in the front door.

Yeah, welcome home, indeed. The old familiar sights, sounds and smells … here I am, once more. Home, showplace, playground. The happiness in that place, the magic .. I’m rambling. Four shows a night, late close-up. I love my work and I was especially ready after my long weekend at Beyond Brookledge.

Just before my first show, I was asked to help facilitate a proposal. This happens every so often and I was really happy to oblige. I had the couple seated at my table and … you can view the results here: The Proposal.

I stepped out into the main bar area, after. Pretty good crowd, especially for a Monday. There was a young woman called Monique there with some friends. Now, I’ve known Monique for a few years; she enjoys the Castle and she likes the Hannibal show, and so she’s often on my guest list when I’m in Hollywood. We’re casual friends. The group spotted me and said hello, they were in great spirits and really happy to be there. Who wouldn’t be. Monique asked if she could buy me a drink and I told her to surprise me. A few minutes later, the valet brought a tasty beverage back to my dressing room. Nice. Welcome home, right?

I make my living primarily by reading people. Little signs and body language broadcast how the act I’m doing is going over … when it’s time to do a move. So tell me: how did I miss the (now obvious) signs she was sending me?

I got a text from her, asking if I’d like to hang out after I was done for the night. A bite, or maybe a movie at home? I let her know how late I’d be getting out (around 1AM) but if she was still interested, sure.
I thought nothing of it. A friend wants to hang out a bit. Cool.
“Why don’t we meet at your apartment?” she suggested.
I thought nothing of it. My place is close to the Castle, so sure. Cool.
We met at my place and we drank some wine and watched part of ‘Chef’ and talked about … various topics. She touched my knee, my arm. She laughs easily and honestly. Her smile is almost always there, and genuine.
I thought nothing of it. This was pleasant. She’s interesting. Maybe I should ask her back to the Castle later this week, see if she’s interested in me. She’s really pretty and I really like her and maybe I have a chance of … romance? Cool?

Let me stop. Yeah. There’s a happy, affectionate, intelligent woman in my apartment at 2AM, and there because SHE asked ME … and I’m wondering if she MIGHT be interested in me enough to meet up later for a dinner date at work. How can I be SO bright and SO dim at the same time?

Finally, she recognized (thank God, who knows how long I might have remained oblivious) that I just wasn’t getting it, so she told me flat out. “Listen, I think you’re really beautiful, and I’ve been physically attracted to you for a really long time and … I’d like to stay the night, if you’d like that, too. Nothing has to happen, I’d just really like to keep talking and fall asleep together.”

I still came close to not understanding. My brain just didn’t process …
Look, for a few years I’ve been shown by several people I really cared about that I’m just not that physically attractive to them. Verbally, casually … and I get it. My girth does not lend itself to the typical Western social norm of ‘attractiveness’. Plus: I’ve been through some big storms, lately. Sex has been used against me as a weapon and as a punishment. I had completely convinced myself that … in a purely sexual sense, that that part of my life was over.

And she put her hand on my face and she looked into my eyes and I saw real desire. She wasn’t acting. More, she was leaning in to kiss me.
There was a spark I haven’t felt in a very long time, and we were kissing honestly, deeply … and I let myself relax into the moment. That also hasn’t happened in a very long time. She was warm and soft. I could smell her skin, and lightly, her cologne and a vague hint of whiskey. Her kiss tasted of wine and a sweetness I don’t have words for.

She stayed.

She stayed well into the next day, until she had to leave: her family was coming into town, and she had some prior commitments. I watched her ride away and wondered in my betraying brain if I’d ever see her again.

I busied myself about my week. The Castle rocked every night and I was in my element, taking the people on my magical 20 minute journeys. I had a giant of the industry compliment me publicly on how I handled a particularly tough crowd. (Read: drunk) I was loving every minute of it.

I had an extended day with my friend Lindsay, who is nearing her one year wedding anniversary and happier than I’ve seen her in awhile. Lots of conversation, lots of jokes back and forth, lots of catching up. We had dinner at the Castle (with a rainbow of Macarons for dessert!) and watched Murray Sawchuck’s show (dazzling, but I was disappointed he didn’t do his signature CD act) then off I went to work while L enjoyed the rest of the artists.

Wednesday I joined my friend Andrea Marie for food in Hollywood. We eased our way past the colorful people on Hollywood blvd and to our chosen restaurant … which was closed while they shot a show on the street it was on. Welcome to LA. We Ubered (it’s a verb, too) over to Toi and had a splendid Thai dinner among the sights. Seriously, check it out sometime. Again, stories of Faire (AM is a Rennie, too), catching up and an all around great evening. I could get used to this city, you know? Afterward we headed over to the Castle where she met up with some friends and I did my ‘job’.

My LA friends really have a way of bringing my joy to the surface, and I treasure them all.

And Monique, you ask?

We had ourselves a nice, though brief, romance. We talked. We shared. Talking on the phone, texting back and forth. We made plans for part of the weekend, and we hoped for more time together. As it turns out, because of Memorial day, I had an extra day on the apartment, and so we had our first actual date. (May 29th) I took her to 25 degrees for my traditional Orange Whip and truffle fries, then to the final night of the Hollywood Burlesque Festival. Lili had asked me to do a number in the final show, so here we were. My friends: Monique is an absolute delight. She understands my passion for my work and my humor. She literally spreads joy everywhere, and her laugh is never far away. Beautiful, sophisticated, yet not afraid to be vulnerable and honest with me. It was a great date.

For my act, Lili wanted ‘Bookends’ (the elf boot story) I wasn’t sure it was the proper thing to close a burlesque festival, but I trust Lili so of course, that’s what I did. My last act of magic in my whirlwind two weeks in Cali, and it went over huge. Laughter, tears, people’s hearts were moved, and the woman who was there with me was looking on with adoration.

We went back to my place for the final night, and talked into the wee hours, and loved, and held each other.
The next day we soberly said ‘Farewell’ and parted. There’s a whole country between us.

But we communicate every day. And when she knows I’m going through rough experiences, which of course I still am, she calls and gives me her time. She heals my hurts. She posts her affection for me publicly on her social media. She tells her friends about me. She makes art for and about me. She’s still interested, and I finally understood. We don’t (as the saying goes) ‘complete’ each other:

“Two beautiful, whole people. Two people who worship love and sow joy. Two complete people with beautiful scars that fit together … beautifully.”

We are making plans to be together soon, in North Carolina, so she can see Christopher’s hometown. Did I mention she likes Christopher a little better than Hannibal? Seriously. We aren’t labeled: For now we are simply taking it as it comes and patiently enjoying each other. As it should be.

My friends and fans have noticed that I’m happier than I’ve been in a long time. I’m wearing it proudly, and it’s easing the journey.

So, there you are. Renewal in three parts. My twelve days in California renewed my purpose, my heart, and my motivation.

I feel beautiful, again.

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Renewal, Part Two: Phantom Theatre

I awoke in time for a quick shower and change of clothes before heading down for a very special showing of Michael Whelan‘s artworks. I’ve been a fan Mr. Whelan’s work since his epic painting for “Bat Out of Hell II” graced that album, not to mention the “Dark Tower” series. There were champagne toasts and speeches, but I was wrapped up in the paintings … a nice lady was also inspecting the art and we had a brief chat about heart and art and the journey between. Later I found out this was none other than Olivia De Berardinis, whose amazing pin-up paintings and drawings I’ve admired since I can remember. I was a bit starstruck.

After a decent time spent in the gallery, we made our way down the street to dinner. I manged to overcome my anxiety of new people in small crowds and made a few new friends. The food was excellent and, even after the stress of travel and the long day, i was able to relax and get into a good mindset for my spot later. And then … things started turning, and slowly started getting real.

I’ve mentioned being starstruck and how it doesn’t happen to me often. I’ve tasted a little bit of fame, so celebrities are generally not intimidating to me. Then Paul Reubens (the artist who created and performed Pee Wee Herman) walked into the party. I was floored. Here’s an artist who created work on his own terms and gained the world through a character he invented … lost it all and, through sheer determination, made an inspiring comeback. I’m not stretching to say that he’s been a hero to me. I waited until he had said hello to friends and ate his dinner, then approached him about taking a picture … I didn’t want to interrupt his evening, but I really wanted to talk to him. He was at once shy, reserved and (conversely yet simultaneously) commanding of the entire room. He was a perfect gentleman as he declined taking a picture with me. He explained it just wasn’t a good moment for him, but possibly later in the weekend would be better. No problem, I totally get it. I was happy just to have a few words.

I left a bit earlier in order to get prepared for my performance. Erika had asked me to perform ‘The Naked Truth’ to close the evening show, and I was more than happy, though suddenly nervous. Lots of people I admire and respect and I was going to … yeah. What was I thinking, right?

The closing show for Friday was in the Chapel. All the usual accoutrements of an old Spanish chapel, including a thirty foot gold wall behind the pulpit, which I dubbed the ‘Papel Climbing Wall’. Well, I thought it was funny. Performances were accompanied by Kristian Hoffman (incredible), and began with a moving performance of Act 5, Scene 5 of Macbeth by Lindsay Benner (serious chills – she walked down the aisle of the Chapel in a robe, holding a candle and mesmerizing us all). 12141609_892943894076628_7503997406796079952_n

The act just before me was Prince Poppycock, an operatic harlequin.  The Prince absolutely blew me away with (among other songs) the most powerful rendition of ‘Rock N Roll Suicide’ since Ziggy himself. No exaggeration, the voice, the affectations … this was a broken heart proclaiming victory for all it was worth. I really shouldn’t be brought to tears just before a Naked Truth show.
(If you are unfamiliar with the Naked Truth, I describe the show here: Exposed.)

And then I was on. I stumbled through ‘Kate and Edith’ while staring out into the blackness. With the lights in the Chapel dimmed, all I could see was the spotlight, the stained glass, and a void. I had forgotten how much I rely on eye contact during this piece to flesh out the humor. One cannot mug to a black mirror. It wasn’t badly relieved, but after the high caliber of acts before me, my ‘fraud’ feeling was loud and harsh. About halfway through, I realized I had failed to prep anyone to lead the audience up … I was on my own in the dark. I very nearly fled to the backstage, and it was only the anxiety of how I might be viewed following that escape that kept my feet glued. I set up the audience for what was about to happen, and the silence was just heavy on me. I had no idea of how they were taking any of this (or honestly, if they were still out there at all). So I stripped, and I cued the music … raised my arms and … nothing happened. I could sense no movement, no sound for at least 20 seconds, which (trust me) is an eternity standing in terror in a spotlight. Then, from behind me, Poppycock stepped up, grabbed a pen and began writing, and the audience moved. I was suddenly completely surrounded and pens were moving furtively over my skin. People were frowning in concentration, some were crying and clumsily hugging me. I knew of only three specific things:

Poppycock finished and stood close by in support.
Jeff McBride came up and wrote many words .. completely covering my right shoulder. He wrote in a flourish, sober but whimsical, and honestly only Jeff McBride can accomplish that.
Through a trick of the reflections, I saw Paul Reubens’ face in the second row. He didn’t come up, but I could tell he was moved. I had his silent support.

When they were finished, I turned slowly to show the entire canvas, took my bows and left the stage. The response was loud and prolonged, and I shuddered my way back up toward ‘normal’.

Epilogue. 
I put on pants, leaving  the majority of the writing exposed, and followed Erika to a small room. For the next hour or so the audience came through in small groups and talked with me about the act. Some had questions, some simply wanted to let me know how they felt. They brought me water, and one brought me a bit of ice cream. It was surreal and beautiful. At some point I got fully dressed, because I was catching a chill. The ‘comedown’ from a Naked Truth show can be brutal, but I wasn’t alone. There was love in every direction.
Paul Reubens came in last, and alone. We spoke for over half an hour. He told me his feelings about what he saw. As private an individual as he is, I don’t feel comfortable sharing everything that was said without his approval, but he admired what I did. We spoke of art and fame and obesity. He was kind and open. I gained a friend.
As he was leaving, he paused and said,
“How about we take that photograph now?”

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By the Lake

I have vivid childhood memories of feeding ducks at Freedom Park with my mother and grandmother. Delighted and terrified by the experience, and clutching the wax paper bag of ‘yesterday’s bread’.

We took the girls to walk around the park when they were small, and we brought along bread to feed the ducks … perhaps past generations of the ducks I played with. The girls were … delighted and terrified, and it’s one of my treasured memories.

In Arizona, outside the coffee shop, I watched a father and son feeding the ducks … and I wish I words for how moved I was. Life is amazing, right down to the very moments.

“There was a boy who came into this world at the hands of a holy woman in a holy place.
He wore a red coat and walked a black dog, saw them reflected in the mirror of the lake.
Lived in the shadow of the mountain, with the smells of disinfectant, dusty old leather, and the polished wood of his bed.
No more than a baby, feeding swans on the river, clutching the hand of his mother and the wax paper bag of yesterday’s bread.” ~ Marillion, “This Strange Engine”

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Two Years Ago

Some of you may think I’m publishing this just to feed my own vanity. The truth is: I want to point out to you that the simplest of kind gestures can change, even save, lives.

My Facebook memories today gave me a short letter from a lady who had seen my show. She came in disliking magic in general. I helped to change her mind, but in the interim I did so much more than I was realizing at the time. Here’s her letter:

“I was going through some things today, and something wonderful happened. This has been a difficult year, I had an injury at the beginning that deeply effected my memory. Today I found the Bicycle Steam Punk deck of cards you gave me a few years back when you changed my mind about magic, and all the memories of that entire stay at the Ritz, meeting the Artists and having the great time with my Husband, came back to me. I truly got to live it all over again, it brought tears to my eyes, and I remembered just how truly magnificent you are. All because you wanted me to remember that day whenever I looked at those cards: it worked.”
January 23rd, 2015

My gift is humble. I do card tricks and I tell stories.

My gift is mighty. It restored precious memories that were thought lost.

Your gift, though perhaps humble, can absolutely change the world. For one, for thousands … who knows?

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Tea and Honey

Chilly night, and I’m substituting the warmth of Her touch with green tea and the sweetness of Her kiss with honey. They are ghosts of the real thing, but the memory is still clear. Sharp and silver.
Good memories. Happy memories.
I’m not broken, I’m not fragile. I found strength and love within, and I’m building on that foundation.
The smell of fall in the air and in my mind I’m back home.
Alone, but not lonely. Discovering myself (again) in the solitude.
Tea and Honey.

And it’s enough.

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Another Mr. h

There’s this guy I know … met him once or twice, but I know deep feelings and events of his life because of the transparency he exercises in his art.

In 1988 he was trying to make it in the music industry, and had just decided to give up for the sake of stability in his family. He was literally putting a ‘for sale’ sign in his front yard when he received the first of two calls.

The first call came from one of the coolest bands in the world. Socially relevant, trendy, college based sound. Cooler (at the time quite a feat) than REM and U2 combined. The were heading out on a world tour and wanted him to play keyboard and percussion. He would be featured on the next album and, if things worked out, become a permanent fixture.

The second call came from perhaps the least cool band in the world. A band that had a minor hit four years prior, and had a small but hardcore, rabid group of fans. The lead singer (and sole lyricist) had abruptly left and the band was looking to fill his shoes in order to fulfill a contract. They wanted Mr. h’s heart and his brain in their sudden new path.

So … what do you do? Guaranteed money and a world tour with a hot band, or artistic control and uncertainty in a band that had assuredly passed its golden years?

Mr. Hogarth chose the lead singer gig with Marillion. Nearly 30 years later, they are releasing their 17th album in September. The music has saved and inspired my life for decades. They aren’t mega rockstars, and they prefer that. They make a comfortable living outside the conventional music industry, and still maintain a small, hardcore group of fans. He’s found bliss and love.

The band he turned down? “The The”. Also still around, the leader/ songwriter Matt Johnson is the only consistent member.

Why am I telling you this? My life has come to a similar crossroads, and I’ve choices to make. My personal life has been altered in a major fashion and one of the few upsides of the upheaval is a new freedom. I can choose my next path without having to consider the consequences for anyone else. It’s my call, my choice. There’s comfort and terror in that, but it’s much less scary that having to decide for six people.

I can do … anything. The determining factor is my will and tenacity. What do I want?

You know what’s great? I don’t know! That is fantastic and exciting. At the moment I am adrift, and waiting. Watching. I’m not leaving my craft, but I am looking for different, challenging venues to display it. 

Soon, it will present itself, and I’ll choose. I will stay true to my heart and my art … and I’ll shine. Fame and money are the least of the considerations, though they play a role.

I have been given this gift, and can’t wait to share it. Stay tuned …

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Lessons

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In my Magic life …

I have four amazing children. Amazing. Clever, loving, beautiful kids. Well, no longer ‘children’, I suppose. My eldest turns 27 this week. Wow.

Anyway, they were raised in the midst of love and art and encouraging affection. Often one of them will say or do something that reaffirms to me that .. we did okay.

My son (the youngest at 19) recently posted the below. All I have to add is: THAT. IS. MY. SON.

Braiden,  I couldn’t be more proud of you.

“So I found this little jem earlier while I was surfing the Internet. So that’s me when I did the rocky horror picture. When I did this show I had a real job. And progressively every day I’d come into work with makeup still on my face, or glitter everywhere, and at one point lipstick marks on my cheek. They always kept asking “what is that?” Or “how hard was the party last night?” You know it’s not easy to try and do what you love while working with normal people. I cannot tell you how many times I just wanted to sell my guitars and say fuck it I’m done. But some people don’t take the time to think what this world would be like without art, or crazy people like me. You’d wake up everyday and work 9 to 5 go home and have any color in your day. But if at that 9 to 5 there’s a guy like me you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but everyday won’t be so mind numbingly boring you won’t have dreams every night about blowing your brains out. It takes even the most talented artist to put on a smile and tell himself he is gonna have a good day. The least you could do is help him have a good day by letting him know the picture he paints is worth a thousand words, or the stories he tells are worth a thousand pictures. Why not start creating a life of art rather than looking down at entertainers for being artistic.”

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