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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Enter my contest! Rename Silent Night

On Thursday, InsideStoryTime presented "Humbuggery," an evening at San Francisco's Cafe Royale of stand-up comedy, writers reading, and live music. Pianist Gary Lutes and I performed the great Soviet composer Alfred Schnittke's Stille Nacht (Silent Night - 1978), which I had long thought of with an alternate title - "The Ghost of Christmas left with multiple stab wounds in a Soviet suburban parking garage." When Gary and I were through, I invited the audience to submit its own alternate titles, which you can see at the end of the video.

This was so much fun I'm putting the contest online. Just enter your alternate titles in the comments section of this blog, and the best one submitted by the end of the year wins a DVD of my film Apparition of the Eternal Church. Special prizes for all who enter! Email me at to redeem.

UPDATE - Congratulations to Martin Hoffman of Brooklyn, NY, for his winning entry "Slay Ride." Happy New Year to all - contestants, don't forget to email me for your runner-up prizes!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

2008, or, Things To Do When You're Stoned, Part I

I caught this sight the morning of the worst day of my year (yesterday).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Happy birthday Elliott Carter!

Today is the 100th birthday of Elliott Carter. This differs from yesterday's Messiaen Centenary in that Carter is still alive. I took advantage of this fact when I was a Juilliard student by going down to the Village and playing for him, with pianist Pedja Muzijevic, his elemental and formidable Duo. There was a band at the time called CARTER THE UNSTOPPABLE SEX MACHINE and of course when Helen Carter greeted us I remembered I hadn't peeled the sticker off my score. In any case, Carter loved us and I've just posted the performance (from my third-year Juilliard recital "An Evening of American Music," Nov. 30th, 1992, in Paul Hall, of all places):

PS - If you haven't voted yet, please consider doing so. I'm still losing. Badly. Think Sarah Palin in Berkeley.

"Sexologist-violinist Paul Festa" at the Cafe Royale

Thursday, Dec. 18th, from 6:30 to 8:30 at the Cafe Royale in San Francisco, InsideStoryTime presents Humbuggery - a holiday reading/cabaret for the rest of us.

Billed, improbably, as a "sexologist-violinist," I'll show off the spectacularly pink and shiny new Nerve "The First Ten Years" anthology, read a new essay, and perform, with the lovely and talented Gary Lutes, Alfred Schnittke's "Stille Nacht," which is sort of like the ghost of Christmas dumped with multiple stab wounds in a suburban Soviet parking garage.

Thursday, Dec. 18th
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Cafe Royale
800 Post St. @ Leavenworth

PS - Speaking of Nerve, another of my essays is a candidate in an online contest. At the moment it is losing - not badly, but humiliatingly. We're talking Tom Tancredo/Mike Gravel territory. You don't have to register or even read the essays. Please save my career. Please vote.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

100 years of OM on earth and in heaven

While I don't believe in heaven, Jesus or Yaweh, I do believe that if I'm wrong, Messiaen is installed right up there with the best and fiercest angels.

If anyone wants to get me a Messiaen 100th birthday present, my wish list has one item on it.

Bon anniversaire, maitre!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I am bound in pink vinyl

I'm pleased to report that an essay of mine is included in the new Nerve anthology "Nerve: The First Ten Years," just out from Chronicle Books and worthy of a space-age hooker's coffee table.

As my editor pointed out, it's a honor to be chosen - 49 essays, by Spalding Gray and Jonathan Lethem among others, made it into the book out of more than 5000 published on Nerve in the first ten years. My only regret is that the comments, so rich with praise and vitriol, couldn't have fit between the pink vinyl slipcased covers.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Juilliard Journal Messiaen / Apparition Q&A

I'd despaired of getting either of my alma maters to pay attention to my film when just in time for the Messiaen Centenary (Dec. 10th), the Juilliard alumni monthly - the Juilliard Journal - ran this Q&A.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The very best thing about being at tonight's commercial premiere of Gus Van Sant's Milk was the crowd and the place. There's nowhere better than the Castro Theatre to see cinematic depictions of angry gay mobs teeming outside the Castro Theatre, and nowhere better to see the premiere of a hometown film. Shouts and ovations went up for friends and acquaintances and people well known to us; a chorus of whispers when the actual Cleve Jones was spotted onscreen, a shout-out for Dennis Peron, cheers for Tom Ammiano. And no matter what the film, there is nothing like seeing a show at that theater when it is sold out. James and I miraculously got two seats together in the second row of the balcony and that, along with David Hegarty's organ playing before curtain, was worth the price of admission.

As for the mobs that teemed in front of the theater after the film (pictured above), one can only imagine the impact they might have had, multiplied around the state, had the distributors not seen fit to sit on the film until after the voters of California passed judgment on Proposition 8.

As for the film itself: Sean Penn's performance is a marvel and a force of nature. The film surrounding it is very good, and far exceeded expectations, but did not get under my skin the way it ought to have. The crowd scenes and some of the supporting actors seemed artificial, as though they belonged to a lesser production. The film gave White a fair amount of screen time, and did due diligence with respect to his multiplying stresses external and internal (mercifully leaving out the Twinkies). Still, I never believed in the character the way I believed in Penn as Milk, and that had serious consequences for the denouement and the time invested in White. I understood the editorial decision that forced a choice between the early footage of Feinstein as she announced the assassinations and including her as a character (beyond a gavel-wielding ghost at a board meeting), but I felt the sacrifice. Here was the woman who mentored White and found Milk's body - an episode whose gruesome details are well known. Perhaps it was a necessary sacrifice - I hesitate to second-guess a writer and a director who told a coherent story and brilliantly incorporated contemporary footage and elicited at least one dazzling performance in 128 swift minutes.

The soundtrack had a reasonably light touch but was otherwise foul. The sex was lighthearted, which I liked, but it was too spare - Milk may have stopped going to the baths after he won office, but still I suspect he would have hated how sexless the film was especially considering it was set on Castro Street in nineteen-seventy-fucking-eight. James brought up one important point, which was how convincingly gay Penn's portrayal was. And this is something to be really grateful for, and it's more important than the sex - that we didn't wind up with a Brokeback Harvey Milk.

I loathed the 1995 Harvey Milk opera and, as much as I enjoyed and admired this film, I wasn't swept away by it. Both suffer by comparison with the two accounts to which they are indebted - Randy Shilts's 1982 book "The Mayor of Castro Street" and Rob Epstein's 1983 Oscar-winning documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk." Someone let much of the emotional air out of the film's tires by announcing to us, before curtain, that it was a "ten-hankie" movie. I don't want to jinx Rob Epstein's documentary in the same way for those who have not seen it, but in fact it is vastly more powerful and heartbreaking than the biopic. Fortunately for us in San Francisco, it's playing at the Roxie this week. The rest of you can and should rent it.

And that reminds me of a Harvey Milk experience I wanted to blog about when it happened this summer but it got away from me - at Suppervision 2, my friend iii put together a video piece set to a remix of Milk's political will. I hadn't looked at the transcript or listened to it (in Epstein's film) for fifteen years and it took me a moment to realize what I was hearing. Already it had commanded my attention, but when I recognized it I came apart. The message is so simple, so powerful, so right: come out. It's the message that created the world around me and gave me the life that I have. And for all the utility Gus Van Sant found in that political will to tell this story, not once did it carry the emotional impact of recognizing Harvey Milk's own voice and hearing his message set to a techno beat (!) at a nightclub and seeing his words projected on a screen. Perhaps this is the root problem for the film - even wizardry like Penn's and everything else the film has to recommend it can't live up to the power of the source material that's so readily available to us.

So, yes, definitely go the Castro and see this film. But make it an equally high priority to experience the Epstein doc and the Shilts biography. As good an imitation as Milk is, it can't compete with the original. I leave you with the original:
The other aspect of the tapes is the obvious of what would happen should there be an assassination. I cannot prevent some people from feeling angry and frustrated and mad, but I hope they will take that frustration and that madness instead of demonstrating or anything of that type, I would hope that they would take the power and I would hope that five, ten, one hundred, a thousand would rise. I would like to see every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let the world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody could imagine. I urge them to do that, urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Nancy Pelosi should watch her back

Me, St. John Coltrane and the "Betts" chillin in the Flute Vault

On Saturday, the day after Apparition of the Eternal Church had its Washington DC premiere at the Library of Congress's Pickford Theater, I gave my DC recital debut, with pianist Jerome Lowenthal, in the LOC's Coolidge Auditorium playing the 1704 "Betts" Stradivarius. Not just performing on this instrument but practicing on it the three days prior was a peak experience of my life.

The day I showed up in Washington on the $20 Chinatown bus from New York, LOC instrument curator Carol Lynn Bamford met me on the steps of the library, across the street from the Capitol, and brought me into the room where the Betts lives, behind glass, with the "Brookings" Amati, the "Kreisler" Guarnerius del Gesu, and the "Castelbarco" Stradivarius cello and violin. Some kind of meeting taking place in the room was on a break as we took the two Strads and the del Gesu out of captivity and put them in cases - it's unclear to me that the assembled suits understood what they were clearing their briefcases and coffee cups for as we laid out the cases and put the instruments away. I was reminded, with a shiver, of the time my Juilliard teacher Robert Mann spilled a cup of coffee on his Strad - an event I was grateful not to have witnessed.

Carol Lynn and I took the violins to the Coolidge Auditorium, a uniquely resonant jewelbox chamber music hall, and she listened to me play passages from my all-Messiaen program on each of the three for most of an hour. By the end of our time in the Coolidge, my gut feeling was to go with the Betts, a feeling Carol Lynn seconded from out in the hall. I didn't make up my mind until the next day, at our next meeting, in the LOC flute vault, when I played the Betts against the del Gesu and the Amati, but not the Library's Stroviols:

The Amati was a gorgeous instrument, with the famed dark Amati sound, but with enormous power not usually associated with those violins. But it was turning down Fritz Kreisler's Guarnerius that was truly surreal. Setting aside its legendary provenance and its gutsy, throaty sound, the violin spoke in the lower positions as though plucked on an amplified harpsichord - the lowest notes on the D string, often hazy and hard to articulate on even excellent violins, popped on this del Gesu with the consonant clarity of an Italian heroine scorned. I might have spent another hour considering the Kreisler but both Carol Lynn and the visiting luthier, John Montgomery of Raleigh, NC, warned me that my sound was distinctly uneven between the lower and higher registers - a problem that had escaped me under my ear.

So, with the feeling of someone who'd just been forced to choose between going to bed with Prince, Beck and the young Frank Sinatra, I put two national treasures back in their cases and commenced a torrid three-day affair with the third.

John the Luthier adjusting the "Betts" soundpost. B-flat above middle C on the G string - an important note in Messiaen's Louange a l'Immortalite de Jesus - was wolfing and he nailed it on the second try. The Kreisler del Gesu is in the foreground.

There's no way for me to convey, without libeling my own beloved violin, what it was like to play the Betts Stradivarius. The closest analogy - apart from that liaison with the 20-year-old Rudolf Valentino - is to having played the electric guitar your whole life and suddenly having it plugged it into an amp for the first time. Look - I've played a number of old Italian violins in my life, among them a few Strads and del Gesus, including another that belonged to Kreisler (in the Colburn Collection, in Beverly Hills). But the Betts bests them all. It's in a class by itself. I am spoiled for life.

This is why I have decided to run for Congress.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Concord, NH: Enthusiasm chasm

I started off my day in Concord doing an hourlong interview on the WKXL AM 1450 ("Thoughtful Community Radio") show "Movies Are My Business" (archive will one day be posted here). I enjoyed talking about the film to a film buff - host Barry Steelman - and getting to sound off on film-specific things, rather than the same old music and religion snake oil I've been peddling for three years. I thought I'd done a good job, but two hours later, listening to the interview on the car radio in the NHTI parking lot, I did in fact doze off and woke to the sound of a chiropractor talking about his business. So I now have the distinction of having actually put myself to sleep talking about my film.

After meeting my NHTI Film Society sponsor, Steve Ambra, I went back downtown for a haircut and then a few hours with the Obama campaign, where the lowlight of my afternoon was my phone conversation with an "undecided" voter (he sounded too brittle with anger to be anything other than a McCain supporter) who claimed to be concerned about something he was just reading about Obama refusing to release his birth certificate to prove he was an American citizen eligible for the presidency. I refered him to Snopes and resisted the temptation to share David Sedaris's take on the undecideds.

On my way to the screening (big success, with friends and family in the audience and a warm reception to film, remarks, and violin performance), I stopped by the big fancy McCain / Sununu headquarters on Main Street to take the Republicans' temperature. If attendance is any indication, they're cooked.

Speaking of the election, here's a Mamma & Obama in 2008 update: (pdf)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fall / New Hampshire

Today I reported to Obama headquarters in Manchester, NH, and worked the phone for four hours. I made 231 calls from the senior citizen pile, reached nearly that many answering machines, and persuaded a minority of callers reached to tell me their presidential preference. Nine will vote for John McCain and Sarah Palin, sixteen will vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden, a dozen were undecided (see below).
One woman who began our conversation undecided said she was leaning toward Obama at the end of it, so if the election is decided by New Hampshire's four electoral votes and Obama wins by the thinnest of margins, you will have me to thank.
So, nu? Sununu? The senator is so fucked his gold-plate lettering is spontaneously detaching from the wall

Most fun was the little bell everyone had by their phone - after hanging up with an Obama supporter, you gave it a triumphant little ding and the phone bank erupted in applause and hoots. Early in the day, someone came over and took my bell, so when I left four hours later I announced that I'd saved all mine up and hit someone else's bell sixteen times in a row. (The crowd roared.)

I have something to say about getting involved in the presidential election. Two weeks remain. Each of us must do what we can to help Obama win in a landslide, win with an indisputable mandate. It does not matter if you are in a "safe state" like California or New York - phone banks will put you in touch with voters in swing states to convince them and help hone get-out-the-vote ground games Nov. 4th. Even for those of us in safe states, the popular vote counts importantly toward a mandate, and besides, California has crucially important ballot measures, like Prop. 8, which would rescind the right of same-sex couples like James and me to marry. We must defeat it, and recent polls show it leading.

But I want to emphasize a selfish reason for you to overcome inertia, thrift and shyness to donate money, time, or, preferably, both. When I think back on the last four and eight dismal, shameful years - when I think of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, Iraq and the lost opportunity of Afghanistan, the deregulation orgy that has despoiled the environment and eviscerated the economy, the ideological troglodytism that has disfigured the Supreme Court - each of these American tragedies and humiliations, these depredations against conscience, I was helped to endure by reminding myself I hadn't stood by in 2004 and done nothing. I hadn't done so very much, but at least I had overcome inertia, shyness and thrift, gotten on a plane, shelled out money and knocked on doors in Ohio for ten days. Of course it was crushing to lose Ohio then. But having fought for it eased my conscience as an American to a degree that I could not have foreseen. Going to Ohio turned out to be a huge gift - to myself.

This time, donate your time and your money so that when President Obama is inaugurated, you will share in the victory, the accomplishment and satisfaction, and the repudiation of what we have done as a nation and endured as its people. Please do not let yourself off the hook for the next thirteen days. It would be an act of self-robbery.

I have the New Yorker and staff to thank for causing me to double over twice today. From the Oct. 27th issue of the magazine:

Shouts and Murmurs: Undecided
David Sedaris

I don’t know that it was always this way, but, for as long as I can remember, just as we move into the final weeks of the Presidential campaign the focus shifts to the undecided voters. “Who are they?” the news anchors ask. “And how might they determine the outcome of this election?”

Then you’ll see this man or woman— someone, I always think, who looks very happy to be on TV. “Well, Charlie,” they say, “I’ve gone back and forth on the issues and whatnot, but I just can’t seem to make up my mind!” Some insist that there’s very little difference between candidate A and candidate B. Others claim that they’re with A on defense and health care but are leaning toward B when it comes to the economy.

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

And this, gleaned from Alex Ross's blog The Rest Is Noise:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Austin in grainy cell phone pictures

The Austin premiere of Apparition of the Eternal Church Monday night, at the University Presbyterian Church, featured live organ accompaniment - Scott McNulty playing the title work and Paul Keith playing the Celestial Banquet. The show started off with movements from Messiaen's Glorified Bodies (a title even he made jokes about) and Nativity Suite (God Among Us). After the screening, I skipped my usual reading from OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever and went right to the Q&A, which was lively. Then I performed, with Chris Oelkers, the final movement, for violin and piano, from Quartet for the End of Time - it went over big. I remember thinking several weeks ago that I would have to become a better violinist to be able to play that piece. Messiaen, G-d love him, is a bitch to play.
In addition to being the Austin premiere, this was also the Presbyterian premiere. It was the sixth church screening after the two at St. Bartholomew's in New York, the SF premiere at Grace Cathedral, the Boston premiere at Marsh Chapel on the BU campus, and the Norway premiere at the Church of Our Lady in Trondheim (the Lutheran premiere). As I said at Grace Cathedral: when I made this film, with all its rough language and what is referred to by presenters as "adult themes," I did not expect it to play in church. But who can resist a nice, big organ?

I like Austin's politics - I saw one McCain/Palin bumper sticker, and dozens of Obama/Biden signs, stickers, buttons, etc. This was my favorite.

I have spent an unbelievable amount of time in the air the last several months - well, all year. I feel terribly guilty about this, for environmental reasons (there's pretty much nothing you can do that's worse for the climate, except set oil fields on fire), but I've grown to actually like the experience of enforced leisure minus Internet access. I would take this to Workaholics Anonymous, but first I need to deal with my political-news and election polling addiction.

I write from New Hampshire, where the movie screens in Concord on Friday, and where I'll do my first volunteering of the campaign season tomorrow, in Manchester. I'm also planning to canvas/volunteer when I'm in DC next week. Will they send me to the real Virginia or the other one? (Question for Sarah Palin or Maria Bachmann: as a San Francisco liberal atheist homosexual, am I a fake American, an anti-American American, or a fake anti-American American?) One of the things I enjoyed about today's flights was annotating all the route maps and vacation ads in the inflight magazine with "anti-America" (California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, the Northeast, Missouri, France, Canada, Mexico, South America, Africa, Asia, the Atlantic Ocean, etc) and "pro-America" (Arizona, Alaska, Wyoming). Hours of inflight entertainment.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

my new film premieres in Canada

Greetings from Sackville, New Brunswick, where Mount Allison University and the Vogue Theatre are screening my new film "Apparition of the External Church." It's based on the radical premise that 20th-century French-Gothic organ music should be performed in the outdoors.

Next stops, with the Eternal Church: Austin Oct 20, Concord NH Oct 24, DC Oct 31 with Coolidge Auditorium recital Nov 1. I still owe this blog a Chicago wrap-up but am still trying to get my mind around Christopher Taylor's performance of the Vingt Regards.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

US to Sarah Palin

I got the idea for this Sarah Palin poster about a week ago (click on image for larger one). This morning, email popped into my box about the Palin Political Poster Project. With 48 hours to prepare for the next leg of the film tour, I had no business designing this poster - but as John McCain likes to say, country first.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Chicago, IL: critical mass

Lots to catch up on since leaving SF Sept. 24th - successful, sartorially triumphant and emotionally twisted days in Dallas, incomparable week in Tennessee, and a so-far terrific time in Chicago with the exception of being cornered last night in my in-laws' suburban garage by a baseball-bat-wielding gangsta teen (I froze, James saved us). More about all that later! For now, the reviews are in, and Chicago likes my film:
"Stunning...Perhaps the finest film ever made on how people experience music, and one of the best-crafted and moving documentaries in a very long time."
- The Chicago Sun-Times

- The Chicago Tribune

"A remarkable film...highly, highly recommended."
Back east, they still like it:
"Intensely personal...nothing can quite prepare you for the experience."
- New Yorker critic Alex Ross
I don't think I mentioned that the film won a prize at the Rome International Film Festival (one of the finest regional film festivals in the southeastern United States) a few weeks ago:
Best Experimental Film
Most fun in Chicago so far was the morning I spent with Andrew Patner at WFMT. The interview was fluid and lively and Andrew did a great job segueing in and out of the musical selections, which included Messiaen playing "God Among Us" from the Nativity Suite, Albert Fuller playing the first movement of the Rameau Suite in A (Allemande), and Olivier Latry playing the Apparition. Favorite part was rummaging around the station's huge CD and LP collection to come up with those three tracks - when have I felt like such a kid in a candy shop? Oh yeah - Tennessee.

The interview with Andrew aired last night between 11 and midnight and I didn't get to listen. But it should be available as a podcast soon here.

If you're in Chicago or know someone who is - two more screenings of the film this week, including tomorrow's big show at the gaudily gorgeous (English rococo?) St. James Cathedral downtown:
• Saint James Cathedral, Chicago
Screening accompanied by Bruce Barber, organ
Wabash and Huron
Wednesday, October 8, 2008, 7 p.m.
Free admission

• Loyola University Museum of Art
820 North Michigan Avenue
Sunday, October 12, 2008, 1 p.m.
The WFMT interview is posted here:
10-06-08: Paul Festa (Filmmaker)

And a blog called "The Listening Sessions" just posted this write-up:
Thursday, October 9, 2008
... Paul Festa's "Apparition of the Eternal Church" ...

Another blog posting on the event:
Sunday, October 12, 2008
"All of this has happened before"
Apparition of the Eternal Church

"A fascinating portrait of how people experience music."

Chicago is apparently teeming with bloggers - more posts from the St. James show than in the last two years of screenings combined. Modesty prevents me from quoting this one, but secretly I'm pleased someone noticed the outfit.

Monday, October 13, 2008
The Year of Musical Thinking
Ghost Light Monday -- Apparition of the Eternal Church documentary film

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Degenerate Art - in Berkeley! October 5th!

My friend Susan Waterfall - brilliant pianist - is presenting an evening of "Degenerate Art" - music, film and photos from Weimar. I'm very sorry to be out of town for this, which was a hit at this summer's Mendocino Music Festival. The details, from Susan:
“Degenerate Music!”: The Music of Weimar Berlin
Berkeley-Richmond Jewish Community Center Sunday October 5

Susan Waterfall, pianist and narrator, Erin Neff, mezzo soprano, and the Mendocino Music Festival Chamber Players, present an evening of music, film, and photographs.

After World War I, Weimar Berlin was a cauldron of artistic ferment as avant-garde artists and intellectuals, most of them Jewish, struggled to create a modern German culture. Exuberant freedom and hectic experimentation masked a sense of impending doom. After 1933, Hitler denounced them all as “degenerate” and their forced exile carried Weimar modernity to the rest of the world. The evening includes Joris Ivens’ twelve minute 1929 art film, "Rain," with an extraordinary score by Eisler, cabaret songs of Weill and Schoenberg, Weill’s String Quartet, and pieces from Three Penny Opera.

The Berkeley Richmond JCC’s newly restored theatre is at 1414 Walnut Street, at the corner of Walnut and Rose in North Berkeley. Concert begins at 7:30. 510-848-0237.
$15 Member, Senior, Student; $20 General.

Presented in association with the Goethe-Institut San Francisco and the Mendocino Music Festival.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Books 4 Barack

Ayelet does battle with chaos, and John McCain

Ayelet Waldman - Berkeley novelist and fellow MacDowell Colony fellow - has launched a really fun way to contribute to Obama. Donate $250 or more and get a grab bag of 10 signed books by illustrious authors from Judy Blume to Alice Waters to Stephen King to Jeffrey Eugenides to Steve Martin to Lemony Snicket.

Details at Ayelet's "Books 4 Barack" page and also the fundraising page she has with husband Michael Chabon (who's also contributed a volume or two).

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sandi DuBowski in SF this weekend

Sandi DuBowski, star of my film Apparition of the Eternal Church, cover boy for my book OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, and director of the award-winning Trembling Before G-d, is most recently the producer of A Jihad for Love, which sold out the Castro Theater at the queer film festival this summer. For those of us who were shut out of that screening, the Lumiere in SF and the Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley offer us an opportunity to see the films with both Sandi and director Parvez Sharma in the house.

Here's the scoop, from my in-box to your ears:

A Jihad for Love opens in San Francisco and Berkeley on August 22nd at the Landmark Lumiere and Shattuck Theaters!

Producer Sandi DuBowski (Director of the award-winning, Trembling Before G-d) and Director/Producer Parvez Sharma will lead Q & A after screenings from Friday, August 22nd – Monday, August 25th.

Landmark's Lumiere Theatre
1572 California St., San Francisco
(415) 267-4893
Fri-Sun at 2:15, 4:45, 7:00, 9:30;
Mon-Thu at 4:45, 7:00, 9:30
Director/Producer Parvez Sharma
& Producer Sandi DuBowski in person
4:45 & 7:00, Fri 8/22, Sun 8/24, & Mon 8/25
Buy Tickets Online

Landmark's Shattuck Cinemas
2230 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley
(510) 464-5980
Daily at 3:05, 5:15, 7:20, 9:35 (valid 8/22-28)
Director/Producer Parvez Sharma & Producer Sandi DuBowski
in person 5:15 & 7:20, Sat 8/23 at Shattuck-Berk
Buy Tickets Online

After Premieres at the Toronto and Berlin Film Festivals and in over 20 countries, A Jihad for Love has won five international awards and has inspired a media blitz across the world. Tens of thousands of people have participated in a thought-provoking dialogue about Islam that the film has catalyzed.

See the LA Times feature story at

Watch Parvez on CNN here:

Please come in large numbers opening weekend! On Monday morning, the booker will determine whether to hold the film for a second week based on how many people came to see the film in its opening weekend.

Buy tickets online for the Lumiere here or for the Shattuck here.

If you would like to get involved, email

Visit,, and and our Facebook groups – A Jihad for Love and Films That Change the World.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Election 2008: Signs of life detected in Obama camp

When I read the news that McCain couldn't tell a reporter how many houses he & Cindy owned, I thought, if Obama can't win with this one, he deserves to lose.

Before I could post that snarky thought, I found this:

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Novel checklist #1: Messud on Trevor

In order to obtain a good review from Clair Messud, please be prepared to answer the following questions.

I don't know if this is a series, but I'll call it #1 just in case. These are 53 questions for me to mull with respect to my novel. The questions are adapted from Clair Messud's Feb. 14, 2008, review, titled "Signs of Struggle," of William Trevor's recent short-story collection Cheating at Canasta.

1. Is it complex?
2. Is it fragile?
3. Does it breathe?
4. Is it strong?
5. Is it memorable?
6. Is it haunting?
7. Is it capable of irony?
8. Of melancholy tenderness?
9. Does it exercise apparently brutal restraint?
10. Is it capable of being contrived?
11. Of being melodramatic?
12. Is it lyrical?
13. Does it embark on broad, apparently undirected swathes of life?
14. Does it convey a line of emotion, or the arc of a relationship, moment, or strand of human existence?
15. Does it have cracking lines?
16. Does it resolve, like music, into a chord – major or minor, depending on the section – that seeks to distill the significance of what has come before?
17. Is this unabashedly moral fiction?
18. Is it subtle, even at times deliberately oblique?
19. Does it have clarifying closing paragraphs that can take the form of a nod to the future?
20. Does its clarification involve an illumination of the self, or of the world, or of the past? Or all of these?
21. Are lives described with subtlety and deftness? And are they both familiar and unique?
22. Does it have all-changing but ineffable moments?
23. Do its life-shattering revelations require elucidation on the part of the author?
24. Is the novel’s darkness, as well as its risk of stereotype, tempered, even transformed, by the narrator’s understanding of the antihero’s death?
25. Are its epiphanies tidy?
26. Does it indulge in and transcend melodrama? Are these transcendences always fully achieved?
27. Are its human choices accurate?
28. Does it make gentling, faintly sentimental gestures without which it would be a novel of Beckettian bleakness?
29. Are its economy and restraint remarkable? (Are they existent?) And do they impart to the novel the quality, almost, of a Christian parable? Do they involve a manipulation of stereotype and sentiment?
30. Does it deftly and truly convey the banality and insouciance of childhood wrongdoing, the capricious state of semi-innocence in which the narrator is at once aware and not aware of wrongdoing’s consequences?
31. Will any reader recognize his youthful self in the young narrator’s dangerous flippancy?
32. Does it display mastery of free indirect style, osmotically imbuing the reader with the narrator’s (and the antihero’s) consciousness through syntax and diction?
33. In articulating awareness of lifelong penance, is it exceptionally beautiful rhythmically in its tone and in its sad import?
34. Do the sentences reverberate like bars of glorious, melancholy music?
35. Is it struggling with a deeply human – and simultaneously God-like – impulse to ease the burden of its characters? Or to ennoble them, even if in so doing it blurs the outlines of what is, by allowing instead what might be? Does it want us to see the flaws of its creations while it grants them a measure of grace?
36. Does it leave ‘em to lie where Jesus flang ‘em?
37. Do closing lines reverberate back through the story, not closing down and specifying its import?
38. Does it reveal shame to be an honorable state?
39. Does it have need of guile or alteration of moral instruction?
40. By rendering small and perhaps futile gestures, does it evoke a complex melancholy and the transcendence of melancholy that are the opposite of smallness and futility?
41. Does it grant grace upon its characters without willing it on them?
42. Is it frank and uncompromising; does it reveal a cold eye?
43. Is it lyric, rather than narrative, living in a moment?
44. Do we find greater cynicism and human failure ironically in a victim, having expected it in a victimizer?
45. Does the story sweep, bird-like, though various points of view before settling upon the narrator’s shoulder?
46. Do months flash by between words?
47. Are significant events given their due proportion of time?
48. Is the novel structurally and technically ambitious and slightly strange?
49. Is its artifice so artful that neither manipulation nor contrivance can be discerned?
50. Is there a fable-like quality, a sense that events take place out of time, or in some unspecified time that is neither now nor very long ago?
51. Does the novel know its characters intimately? And its own writerly tendencies?
52. Does it have marvelous observations, and is its literary contrivance rather persistently showing?
53. Does it push, sometimes awkwardly, for its characters’ redemption? Or at least for their moral worth? And is that an exhilarating sign of struggle, of life itself?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

CNN on George W. Bush Sewage Plant - Willie Brown's voting yes!

CNN has this great piece on our ballot initiative to change the name of the Oceanside Wastewater Pollution Control Plant to the George W. Bush Sewage Treatment Plant. Highlight: former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown endorsing the measure:

"I wouldn't be caught voting any other way. You think I want to be run out of this town?"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

June diary entry


Earplugs are silver-tipped, just as the street listener said my violin bow should be.
Familiarity, that overactive gland, is reliably embarrassing.
I get caught staring – I utter transparent pick-up lines, am wrong about what they mean.
Our paradox: loneliness propels us into the void.
Sound bounces from the single wall of the blindness chamber and makes such a racket you see images, films, a diaspora of big-screen television sets, a civilization of mongrel and bastard illusions, some familiar to Orlando under her oak tree.
As for the others - how do we endure them?
“You look so familiar – did you go to Yale with Heather?”
That woman looks like she stepped out of Women’s Wear Daily fashion ad, circa 1958. She overshares with her beautician. Her clothes match the purple of her color-coded LIFE section header in USA Today. She looks like she just smelled shit. She always does. Age has such a sly sense of humor.
“Not if you moisturize,” as Eric Glaser would say, or did.
Miss Kansas 1951 doesn’t realize I’ve been staring at her the last several minutes. Am I invisible? If I were invisible, what would I look like? “The people are my people” said the Duke.
Who are my people? Not Miss Kansas, not the gruff looking fallen hippie scrawling intently in his own notebook (a kindred spirit among the not-my-people), not the hyperactive Filipino kids, not anyone reading USA Today, not the cute guy whose sleeping head is lolling around in a calm surf, not any of these people chained to their laptops, tuning out the void –
My sense of humor: a flashpoint tonight, earlier, a spur of insecurity. I tell myself: you honor your instincts by taming them. I respond: what a risible lie!
My flight is delayed; the silver has fallen from my ears.


A marching band infiltrates the house party. In the kitchen, I dance with my fingers in my ears while the neighbors call the cops.

Itamar, Portia, Hysterika, Suzan Revah, Michael Smith, Joanna, Metal Patricia, Sister Mae Joy B. in full regalia, Bryan Harrelson. Are these my people? I have Williams Syndrome, I am always happy to see everyone. Jupiter fixes me with a cold correction – the evil eye! I like being popular but I’ve learned to live with this other thing. At 38 I have so much experience – with drunkenness and sobriety, freedom and captivity, love and the void. James urges moderation. Aretha advises: “Don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.” Celebrating the vaudevillian, e.e.c. extolled that imprecision that creates movement. Mr. In-Between dozes in an airport lounge: his head bobs and jerks in slow-motion. He is the only fuckable person in Terminal 1.

Jason Fleetwood-Bolt, Jon Bentley – Boy Bar. Dolores Park at 4 a.m. – my congeniality falters when I make a nasty remark about the Bar on Castro. My parting shot, directed at Itamar, comes off wrong - one too many jokes about catching his cold. My sense of humor is a cause for concern. A friend gets laid with a 19 year-old Puerto Rican boy (“Is this going to hurt?”) and has no complaints about the evening. I make some vaguely off-color jokes to middle-aged Midwestern ladies and they seem to love me. Am I endearing only to them and offensive and obscure to everyone else? Women’s Wear Daily is waiting for her row to be called. My row is next. I smell shit.


Deterioration, wear & tear. Weird weather and the relief we get from disasters. A Politico blogger thanks me for pointing out his loath/loathe confusion. Colors of the Celestial City. Honey, that’s really colorful – paint hits the canvas as though applied with the tip of a lightning bolt. Is color more like God or orgasm? From the invisible island we watched the planes line up to land - three slowly falling planets, ablaze, endless renewal.

I could not rouse my sense of humor (that problem child) to defend against the depredations of the talkative New Age Faerie, his endless assault on Big Topics with the weaponry of small thoughts. Now I know that the sun needs our love, needs to be loved and – oh, let that stand for the whole depressing gospel, told in European accents and punctuated by trills of the tongue and other sound effects and frequent references to Buddhism, or Hinduism – wait, which is which? Either one will do, just remember that the sun is counting on your saving it a space in the void, where we can all wait holding hands until it inhales, puffs out its belly and fries us to a nice ghost of ash. My coordinates: row 11, seat F. Will anyone watch this planet rise? I ring the call button. Bring me trombones, the bass drum, the exotic dancer.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Flush with pride - we're on the ballot!

The Presidential Memorial Commission of San Francisco today put out the following statement:



San Francisco (July 17th) - Officials at the Department of Elections announced today that the citizens' initiative to rename the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant the George W. Bush Sewage Plant has qualified for the November 4th San Francisco ballot. Voters will decide on the measure in the general election alongside the presidential election, numerous statewide initiatives, and an expected 20 to 30 local measures.

"We want to thank the dozens of people who volunteered to campaign throughout the city, and the thousands of San Franciscans who lined up to sign this petition to pay tribute to our President," said initiative co-author Brian McConnell. "With over 100 volunteers, we were able to run a citywide campaign with no donations, no paid signature gatherers - it was a 100% grassroots voter movement."

The Presidential Memorial Commission is planning a creative, art-driven general election campaign, and is putting out a general call for support from artists who want to design flyers, billboards and other attention-getting devices. "We're hoping for an election campaign like no other," said Mr. McConnell.

While the measure is only being presented to San Francisco voters, voters worldwide can contribute to the general election campaign by donating artwork and funds at

CONTACT: T. Wayne Pickering -

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

legally wed, part V - married by the mayor

Thanks to our family friend John Cronin, there is this video clip of the wedding ceremony in the mayor's office.

After the ceremony, we went out on the mayor's balcony (where he claimed, somewhat incredibly, never to have set foot). We had a champagne toast, I played something for James on the violin, and then we posed for pictures:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

George W. Bush Sewage Treatment Plant - signature submission, media coverage

Presidential Memorial Commission founder Brian McConnell, PMC historian Paul Festa and San Francisco Department of Elections Campaign Services Manager Rachel Gosiengfiao as the PMC submits 12,000 signatures (photo credit: Associated Press)

I woke at dawn Monday so I could get into town in time to videotape the submission to the San Francisco Dept. of Elections of about 12,000 signatures in support of the Presidential Memorial Commission's ballot initiative to change the name of the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant to the George W. Bush Sewage Treatment Plant.

The submission brought a flurry of press coverage, including a BBC story that ran with the AP photo above, the AP's own story, and coverage from San Francisco to Tehran to Cape Town.

Friday, June 20, 2008

legally wed, part IV - CBS, Getty Images

CBS, Channel 5, has three video clips of us, the first two posing with the bust of Harvey Milk, the third walking down the stairs of the rotunda.

CBS also ran this picture from Getty Images - below are two more from Getty:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

legally wed, part III - Chron profile

In the North Light Court, waiting to get our license.

The San Francisco Chronicle did nice brief profiles of couples recently or about to be married, and ours is the fourth one down on this page.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

legally wed, part II - Newshour

When James and I got out of City Hall yesterday, we walked right into the huppa that queer synagogue Congregation Sha'ar Zahav had set up. I had no idea anyone was taking pictures, but there it was on the Newshour.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

legally wed, part I

Today's events generated a lot of documentary evidence - this is just the first installment.

SFGate (pictured above)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Fiction to look forward to

My first stab at blogging came in the year leading up to my 30th birthday. Determined to publish something by the time I turned 30, I launched, a site for daily writing. The term blog didn't have the ubiquity it suffers from today, but I felt D&P really wasn't one - "this isn't going to be one of those Web diaries" is how I think I phrased it in an initial posting. The idea, modeled after the Daily Themes course in daily writing I took at Yale with Wayne Koestenbaum, was to write every day. It could be fiction, poetry, essay, diary, mock news - anything, as long as it was at least 300 words. It was a good exercise and out of 366 postings there were ten or so I wound up liking. I've posted them here.

Back then it wasn't so terribly competitive to get an audience if you wrote and posted something on a daily basis, and one of the very nicest things about D&P was the people I met doing it. One D&P reader was Cooley Windsor, who was at the time a writing resident at the Headlands Center for the Arts. He invited me to read there with him, and so D&P had its closing ceremonies, on my 30th birthday, in that august and splendid setting.

Cooley's short story collection Visit Me in California, coming out in August, just got this review in Publishers Weekly (emphasis added):
Visit Me in California: Stories
Cooley Windsor. Northwestern Univ./Triquarterly, $16.95 (130p) ISBN 978-0-8101-2496-7

San Francisco poet Windsor's punchy, edgy briefs find his characters often caught in Homeric and Old Testament entanglements. “The Last Israelite in the Sea” imagines a protagonist running after Moses after the Red Sea miraculously parts, feeling rapturous but also terrified, barefoot and unable to swim, that he won't make it to shore. “The Art of War” finds various Homeric characters in painfully human situations, such as Paris, steeped in pornography as a youth and unable to consummate his desire for Helen because her beauty only underscores his imperfections, or Achilles, accidentally shot by a farm boy in the chest rather than in the heel. Some selections have a poignant memoiristic feel, as in the elegiac “I'll Be You,” in which the friend of a dying gay man in San Francisco has to make choice that places him between his friend and his friend's caring Tulsa mother. Windsor's stories possess the startling, memorable quality of the brightest fiction. (Aug.)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

art and dance in SF this weekend

My friend Jombi Supastar is having an art opening tomorrow night in the heart of the Castro.

Magnet, 4122 18th Street
Opening reception, Friday, 6 July, 8-10 p.m.
Normal hours: Tue 11 - 6pm Wed 2 - 9pm Thu 2 - 9pm Fri 2 - 9pm Sat 11 - 6pm

I'll see the show but miss the opening party because it conflicts with the second night of the Stephen Pelton Dance Theater show at Dance Mission, in which I'm playing the snappy number from the Ravel sonata for violin and cello. But you can do both! Our show is tonight, Friday and Saturday at 8, and Sunday at 7. Remember that no one is turned away for lack of funds.

June 5-8
Thursday - Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m.
Dance Mission Theater
3316 24th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 826-4441

Saturday, May 31, 2008

San Francisco voters: Yes on Prop. A!

Thanks to this guy, I had to buy my own paper and pencil in 3rd grade.

I was in third grade when California voters approved Prop. 13, which slashed property taxes and sent California's public schools from national eminence down to the very bottom. Prop. 13 is still on the books, and so it falls to municipalities to try to improve public education.

This in from Vice President Plack:
Please email everyone you know in SF who votes and ask them to vote yes on Prop A. We are very close to the margin between victory and defeat. Every vote counts. This will be a low turn out election. You can help get us over the top.
The initiative will impose a modest parcel tax on property owners in San Francisco to aid teachers, for whom living in our superultraexpensive city is a serious challenge.

In a nutshell (from the Prop A site) -
Proposition A is a $198 annual tax per parcel. The funds raised will be primarily for teacher recruitment, retention and training. In addition, Proposition A will help our schools upgrade and replace old technologies.
Note that we need a two-thirds majority for this one to pass. Please make sure to vote on Tuesday, June 3rd, vote yes on A, and make sure you spread the word to other San Francisco voters how important this is.

San Francisco students, teachers, and Vice President Plack thank you.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Nerve birthday essay: No End In Sight

The white tennies and bald spot in the clip art I can live with,
but what on earth is that thing hanging from the doorknob?

To celebrate my birthday, I filed this Nerve story on the joys of becoming a middle-aged gay man. To read, click the picture.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

gay marriage fight begins now

James and I tie the knot at City Hall, Feb. 13, 2004 (photo credit: Reuters)

James and I are celebrating today's decision by the California Supreme Court establishing a constitutional right for couples to marry regardless of sex.

And now this, from the AP:
The challenge for gay rights advocates, however, is not over.

A coalition of religious and social conservative groups is attempting to put a measure on the November ballot that would enshrine laws banning gay marriage in the state constitution.

The Secretary of State is expected to rule by the end of June whether the sponsors gathered enough signatures to qualify the marriage amendment, similar to ones enacted in 26 other states.

If voters pass the measure in November, it would overrule the court decision.

Folks, well into my third year of unemployment, I'm in a much better position to receive money than to give it. But the prospect of California's voters overturning this decision is sufficiently hideous that I've committed $20 per month through November to Equality California, which has led the charge in support of equal marriage rights in the state.

Please give generously.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Stephen Pelton Dance Theater June 5-8

I'm performing in the upcoming 15th anniversary show of the Stephen Pelton Dance Theater:

June 5-8
Thursday - Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m.
Dance Mission Theater
3316 24th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 826-4441
Tickets are $20 - $25 and no one is turned away for lack of funds.

I've seen much of the work that's going to be presented - including the title piece - and it's really gorgeous. (My contribution to the evening is brief - the program ends with a piece set to the fast movement of Ravel's sonata for violin and cello.)

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