Mag Earwhig, Two Stories: Part 3

I have two more posts regarding Guided by Voices and their 1997 album Mag Earwhig. This one and the next, which will be a full track-by-track album review. But before I get to the review, I’ll continue to set the table with another bit of excessive background…

My Buddy

So, in 1997 I was still hanging out with Tony, who I mentioned in the prolog. I think everyone, if they’re lucky, should have a Tony in their backstory. People that add colour. He ticked a lot of boxes. He was creative, smart, funny, charismatic, kind-hearted, charming, solar…a force of nature. He’s the only man I ever kissed on the lips, and I initiated the kiss (to be clear, it was a closed mouth “peck”, but it did happen), but that’s another sorry. To sum up, in my memory, he was like a private rock star that I had all to myself.

Tony introduced himself to me in high school, probably around 1990. He must have heard I was a guitarist that liked R.E.M. and wanted to see if we could jam. We got on pretty well and in no time we were jamming, hanging out and partying. Just bein’ “buddies”. In that time, he was the frontman, for sure. In our short lived band(s), I was the sideman guitarist. And that is how it should have been. That was the correct order of things…then.

Tony needed to connect with people, wanted to connect, could connect with anyone.

I, on the other hand, was guarded and skeptical; cynical and prickly. Really, my act was just me shooting myself in the foot over and over trying to get past a lot of stress, damaged self-esteem, repression, anger and resentment built up living through my childhood. Living through shit I didn’t have the tools or the modeling to get past. So I just sat in those feelings and hoped one day a pill would be invented to wash them all away (That never happened…they did find a cure for restless leg syndrome though. So there’s that).

My childhood, when measured against other people’s stories, hardly rates as tragic, but it left me with the cemented impression that I was a worthless mistake that had no real place of value in the world. I won’t even pin it all on my parents; society did its share, too. I got better…eventually…somewhat. But back then I was what I now refer to as “a tough nut to crack”.

Anyway, Tony just blasted right through my defenses, God bless him. He looked right past all my bullshit and held his hand out to the kid sitting in the middle of all that barbwire and said, “Come out of there. Let’s have some fun.” He wasn’t worried about getting pricked. He was lion hearted. And we did have fun. Epic fun. And we were brothers of a sort. I will always think back and know that Tony helped me out of a bad spot there, and I am forever grateful. We all need that, from time to time.

And Tony did get cut on my defenses. And in many of the stories of life and love with Tony, I was the villain. I did things to Tony that I’ll never forgive myself for…but he forgave me every time. Like I said, brothers of a sort.

What I didn’t know back then, or didn’t respect, was that Tony had demons of his is own, always hot on his heels, and when they caught up they got him real good. And there was no way for me to return the favor and reach in and pull him out. The end of the 1990s came and Tony was out of my life forever. A book closed.

But this is 1997, and that final breakdown was a few years off. As far as we knew, the party would never end! And I have two underwhelming recollections about Mag Earwhig around Tony that come to mind when I think back on that time and that album. All the strands are knit together.

Story One: Tony’s Friend Wasn’t Sold

So, Tony and I were fans of the GBV (as established). I remember driving around one night with him in 95/96, listening to Alien Lanes. He said that GBV had kind of carried on the spirit of Nirvana for him. I’m paraphrasing and I probably have it wrong. But I remember him saying something like that both bands had songwriting that was very catchy/poppy/melodic but because of who they were it came out punk/post-punk/metal (Obviously, a lot of bands did this, these bands just did it better). And we listened to the music and we talked about GBV and we sang along with GBV…

And then Mag Earwhig came out in 1997. I bought it day one. At that point in time, GBV was a “day one must buy” band for me. I listened to it. Loved it.

I vaguely remember talking to Tony about it. I think at that stage he was a little “moved on” from my state of lifelong-full-on-fanboy-Kiss-Army-esque GBV fanaticism. He was positive but reserved, like maybe the album was a partial misstep, but he could dig most of it.

That night we went over to the house of a friend of his that I didn’t know. Tony always had a new friend. I always didn’t.

Somehow the conversation turned to the new GBV. Oh, this guy, the friend, he wasn’t sold. “‘Bulldog Skin’ sucks…They lost it.”

My response was, “I don’t know. I think there’s a lot of killer stuff on there.”

Well, suffice to say, I was instantly convinced that I never wanted to see this fucktard again. And I never did.

You see, back then, if you didn’t like the music I liked, I thought you were a fucking idiot. And, if you criticized a band I liked, well then you should probably lie down and die like a fucking dog. I now realize this was defense mechanism to keep people at arms length, but it felt right at the time. I’ve evolved since.

By the way, in that same period, I was constantly telling every person I met how terrible their taste in music was.

I was a real special guy.

But to be fair, artists must have convictions.

Let’s face it, ‘Bulldog Skin’ was the ‘Hold on Hope’ of its time (more divisive than Trump). But, I mean, Jesus Christ! Cut ’em some fuckin’ slack…I get it! It’s repetitive and dumb…and it was the lead single. But it’s just ONE song from maybe one of the most prolific and consistently interesting songwriters of our time! And you can’t say that guitar solo isn’t a lot of fun. Come on! Doug Gillard killed it!…Whatever. I’m not going to die on that hill. NEXT!

Story Two: Everybody’s Going to Love This

So it must have been the “early” internet that told me there was an import version of the Mag Earwhig CD with two bonus songs (I mean the standard album only had 21 songs, obviously we really needed two more). Well, you know, as a true believer, I couldn’t pass that up. I bought that overpriced import, and I listened to those fucking bonus cuts, and I really liked them. Particularly the song ‘Running Off With The Fun City Girls’ (In fact, many of the outtakes/B-Sides from this record are very strong and they will ALL be reviewed in my upcoming Mag Earwhig MEGA-review…COMING SOON!)

The song is a serviceable little rocker. It’s got that GBVerde sound. It’s got some nice bits in it. The drums are tasteful and tight. In hindsight, I can see why it was an outtake…but it’s not a bad track. The lyrics bring to mind the Beatle’s ‘She’s Leaving Home’…but, to me, maybe she’s leaving home to become a stripper. I don’t know, maybe I was just thinking too much about strippers at that time. It kind of sounds like he’s saying “porn” when he’s saying “fun”…I-I-It doesn’t matter now.

Bottom line, I thought the song was a cool. It was new to me and I liked it…and the theme.

So, I remember, one night, being in someone’s backyard at a little “get together”, let’s say, within a week of me buying that import. Tony was there, and others. We were handing around an acoustic guitar, as young troubadours do. I would usually play a Big Star ballad on my turn. You know, typical Ken-Powers-in-his-twenties behavior.

Eventually the showboating was over and someone started playing CDs (this was the age of CDs…before iPods, before iPhones, before BLUETOOTH! We had Spooky Tooth…just no Bluetooth) and I thought to myself, “Ooh, I’ve got an idea – a special surprise for everyone. I’ll sneakily excuse myself and grab that Mag Earwhig import out of my car. Then! When no one’s looking, I’m gonna highjack the Hi-Fi and play ‘Running Off With The Fun (Porn?) City Girls’. People are going to be knocked out. Everybody’s going to love this!”

So, you know me, once I get an idea in my head, particularly about covert operations where I think I will be helping (“educating”) the masses with one heroic act, I can’t be stopped.

The operation, technically, went off without a hitch, yet the response from the group was not what I expected. I would characterize the response as indifference mingled with a smattering of disdain. Well, you can’t win ’em all.

Those looks, OOF! They convinced me that, for the time being, I would keep my GBV torch close to the vest, thus lighting my vest on fire. Lesson, kids…watch where you’re pointing those torches.

I determined to keep my GBV flag in the car and in the bedroom. I took it way underground. It was clear that I was on the wrong side of history. That this love was not natural and not going to be easily shared with others – that I was into a cult band and the Kiss-Army cavalry was not coming to save my ass.

But goddamn it if Mag Earwhig isn’t one of the great GBV sing-along records. It summons spirits every time.

And if you ever want to hear Tony, just listen to the scream at the end of ‘Are You Faster?’. I swear to God it’s him…

End of Part 3

…to be concluded

Mag Earwhig, Distorted Mirror Broken: Part 2

So, 1997 was the year Mag Earwhig was released. It was a different time…clearly. I was unhappily working a stable-yet-uninspiring-corporate-job in an ill-fated attempt to survive capitalism (I was doing my Kafka thing). If I had been deployed and fighting in World War III (which, fortunately for me, did not happen at that time), I would have been staring at a well-worn Laetitia Casta pinup just prior to being irradiated to dust. Instead, I was looking at a lot of the “early” internet via what I assume at the time must have been dial-up services like AOL and Prodigy.

Honestly, I don’t remember a lot about my life at that time. It’s kind of blocked out. I know that was a period when I self-identified as an “artist”, spending much of my free time producing esoteric art for myself (Somewhere, there is a very large box overfilled with audio tapes of God knows what. I shutter to think). Yet everyday I grew less and less interested in sharing that art with the outside world. Less interested in seeking acknowledgment, recognition, “glory”.  Because, as a survivor of childhood bullshit turned cynic, I just couldn’t see the point. Human interaction was going to disappoint. Either they were going to let me down, or I was going to let them down. My ego was misaligned. I was down on life, down on love. Just down. And there were no answers, just more unanswerable questions to dig up. To this day, I struggle to keep that guy out of my head. He wasn’t wrong, but you can’t think like that and be happy…or content…whatever that is. I guess the hard learned lesson (for assholes like me) is to stop fighting the ocean and choose to be happy with the absurdity of life…but I wasn’t there yet.

ANNNNYYWAY, as we established in the prolog, I was a big Guided by Voices fan for a couple of years at this point. Their art inspired me in so many ways. There is so much fighting spirit in that catalog, and it’s catching. They stand out, along with my Beach Boys record collection, MST3K on TV and Austin Powers at the movies (?), as lifesavers. The memories I have of those things remind me of laughter, joy, and belonging. A bulwark against “The Many Moods…of Ken Powers”. These things inspired me, helped me tune in to some more uplifting thought patterns that brought better situations and people into my life.

Those people, where are they now? I don’t know.

Raymond Carver wrote a poem, ‘My Boat’, about a boat he was having made. He starts listing all the friends he wants to take out on this boat. “People are going to have fun, and do what they want to do, on my boat.” The boat in the poem has “plenty of room” for all his friends (even though the actual fishing boat he’s describing, 1978 Olympic Hardtop, would comfortably hold maybe six). The boat, to me, represents a sort of heaven of the imagination, where you are reunited with all the people that you remember fondly and would like to have around you, but can’t because…life.

So to the people of 1997 who made a difference, thanks. You matter. You saved my life. You did. Congratulations.

Click here to read ‘My Boat’ at books.google.com

End of Part 2

…to be continued

Mag Earwhig Buys a Beer: Part 1

Guided by Voices’s “transitional” album Mag Earwhig was released twenty-one years ago. A “line-up change” record which intermixed recordings from both versions of the band, it represented the end of GBV’s formative or “classic” period. At the time, it was a breaking point for many in the early fan base, who didn’t like the evolution. Those people were WRONG, period, and can all “get fucked”. I loved that album when it came out and love it even more today. For true believers, it represents the start of Robert Pollard’s musical collaboration with guitarist Doug Gillard, which is one of the most criminally under appreciated and fruitful rock-genius-partnerships of all time. A partnership that (minus one long break) lives on and can be enjoyed to this day. In honor of Mag’s first legal beer I have decided to write some GVB-centric posts about those times.

Prologue

A long time ago, in a suburb far, far away…Nineteen-something-and-five, younger Ken Powers was listening to R.E.M., Syd Barrett, Robyn Hitchcock, Pavement, SST, indie-rock, post-punk, pop-rock, punk-rock, prog-rock and psychedelic-rock on a loop…Usually, while reading comic books.

He was reading SPIN magazine, too. And in certain issues of SPIN, he was reading about this underground band from Ohio…Dayton, Ohio (?). They were described as a sort of song-guild of misfit freaks who followed this beer chugging, pot smoking, middle-aged ex-jock elementary school teacher who also just happened to be a rock n roll savant.

This man was purported to be able to compose awesome, catchy, “MANLY”-yet-sensitive indie-rock nuggets on command, all day long…every day (Ken Powers, on the other hand, was struggling at the time to write just one song that wasn’t “gay”).

This band was called Guided by Voices, GBV for short. Their front man was Robert Pollard. GBV recorded on TASCAM 4-Track in a genre of music dubbed “Lo-Fi” (younger Ken Powers was also home recording on a TASCAM 4-Track! What a coincidence!). The SPIN reporter explained that in this “Lo-Fi”  style, if done correctly, a performer could capture the most authentic performance possible, the trade-off was tape hiss and poor engineering…Well younger Ken Powers (I was in my twenties after all) was ALL about authenticity. Plus the SPIN journalist was sure to have dropped in some Barrett, Soft Boys, Devo, Cheap Trick, the Who and Wire references and I’m sure Peter Buck was probably quoted as saying GBV was “acceptable”. Buck had spoken.

I (Ken Powers that is) knew RIGHT THEN AND THERE that I was going to make a purchase. I was going to buy my first Guided by Voices record!

At the time, I was working at a record store chain, Warehouse Records. I put in a special order for the two most recent GBV releases, the just released Alien Lanes and its predecessor, Bee Thousand, with my trusty assistant manager. They soon came in, were purchased (at an employee discount), went straight into my CD player and (bingo-bango-bongo) the rest is history.

A lifelong obsession began.

Pollard’s coded lyrics fell like Tetris pieces right into the folds of my brain. The melodies and hooks echoed endlessly in my mind, but they never chafed, they were a welcome addition to the din of my subconscious. Soon, my songs started to sound more like GBV songs, my voice sounded more like Pollards. I was turning Japanese (Spin Cycle).

When all was said and done, in my mind, Robert Pollard was right there with Brian Wilson as “the man”. An estimation that has not waivered to this day.

I bought it all, every record, every EP, and every single I could order from their back catalog. It was a treasure trove, a master class in rock n roll history, composition and performance. As important as the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks in the Pantheon of Rock. And it was all mine…’cause nobody else could give a shit.

I don’t think there were more that three people in my home town capable of understanding and accepting the greatness that is GBV. I mean, It wasn’t that hard to understand…you just had to listen to the records and have good taste. Sadly, good taste was a scant resource in Thousand Oaks, California…where the people are kind of lame-ish (I don’t want to be mean).

I turned my best friend and Jam-mate at the time, Tony, on to the band. He got it…sold on “Over the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox” and we became a little “fan club” of sorts.

I knew they were the best fucking band in the world. I tried to help others understand. In my mind GVB should have been huge. It’s not my goddamn fault if everyone else was listening to bullshit. I mean fuck, I had to watch people buy shitty records all day long at the Warehouse…it was very painful for me…Hootie and the Blowfish?! FUUUUUCKKK!!

Anyway, they put out another great record the following year and toured LA. I finally got to see them LIVE and IN CONCERT. It was a revelation. A beer fueled sing-along sausage party where everyone in the crowd felt like Roger Daltrey at Woodstock. Pollard would get drunker and drunker, slinging perfect nugget after perfect nugget. The band sounded great, an unstoppable rock n roll machine. And then there were Pollard’s scissor kicks… You haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed a Robert Pollard scissor kick live. It can’t be topped. It can’t be explained. Watching it on tape doesn’t do it justice. It’s just fucking great. It’s etched on the Mount Rushmore of rock! The crowd fucking eats it up, man. It’s beautiful! You go home, put on the record and, if you’re as inflexible as I am, you pull your groin trying to recreate it (One day I’ll get my flexibility back. I’m doing my stretching exercises EVERYDAY! YOU’LL SEE!!).

End of Prologue

…to be continued

Unicorn Steaks

Yesterday, I witnessed two things that I will never forget. One was harrowing and terrifying – the other inspirational beyond anything I have ever had the honor to have witnessed.

Bad news first

If you know me, then you’ll undoubtedly know the first event (the harrowing one) was watching #PresidentShithead’s joint press conference with Putin in Helsinki. After a week of setting fire to the NATO alliance and the Special Relationship, yesterday, #PS [aka Trump], with the whole world watching, willfully spread misinformation denying Russia’s very real cyber attack on the United States.

In doing so he went against, and publicly betrayed, our institutions of national defense and US law enforcement. He instead sided with the murderous, lying despot standing next to him. A dictator who is actively leading an attack on America, via cyber warfare, to undermine and corrode our DEMOCRACY and world influence.

We now add this offense to the list of impeachable offenses #PS has committed. Offenses the Republican congress won’t act on…but instead will allow to be forgiven and “normalized”.

I just want to take this moment to send a heartfelt message to my Republican brothers out there…Sorry. I don’t think we can give him a “mulligan” on this one, boys. This really is the end of the road and the end of this Presidency. Accept it, it’s over. As you like to say, “There are winners and losers”. Well, you picked a big fucking loser. Time to flush the bowl before you get any more shit on your hands. Kapeesh?

Nuff said about that for today.

Now the good news

SO YEAH it was the “worst of times”. But then something else happened yesterday that was maybe the most inspirational thing I have ever seen, in person, in my entire life. The most inspirational thing I have probably ever been a part of (even if only in a peripheral way). And I’m not fucking exaggerating! It was real life drama played out with real stakes and, when it was all done, it made be believe in America. It made me believe not that we are the best, but that we can be the best if we do our best. If we do our best for each other, especially when we need each other. If we can change our hearts through empathy, when it counts, we can achieve anything. I saw it happen right before my eyes and it was radiant, and I will, for one, never be the same.

[So I’m going to write my story about what happened…and it’s going to be long. With an exceedingly long tangential lead in . It will hopefully be goodish…but, fur sure, it’s going to be looong. If you just want to just skip ahead to the actual event, scroll down to “The Event”…but you’re missing out if you do…just sayin’. – Ed.]

I officially moved to Visalia, California to be with my wife, then my girlfriend, back in 2010. She, having secured a good job as an elementary school teacher, was able to buy a house in her lifetime hometown at a good price (it was bottom market, mid-Great Recession) and invited me to move in (Even though we were not married. A SCANDAL!). This was the beginning of the rest of my life. My life is with Jenny. And so I have adopted this new hometown, Visalia.

I grew up in Thousand Oaks, California, where my parents and siblings still live. When my parents bought their house in Thousand Oaks in the mid 70s it was a different place than it is today. My father had brought the family across the country from Farmingdale, Long Island, New York for a new job and a change. As an electrical engineer, his work and work opportunities were closer to Los Angeles, but he wanted to live in a suburb, like Farmingdale was a suburb to NYC.

He looked at buying in the San Fernando Valley, but thought the lots and houses seemed small, the communities dingy and packed together. He looked a little further out and found Thousand Oaks, sure it was a longer commute, but the houses and lots were bigger and, EVEN BETTER, CHEAPER. We ended up in a beautiful, idyllic home in the Wildwood development next to the Jewel of Thousand Oaks, Wildwood Regional Park.

I wish I could say my family story was altogether idyllic, but it wasn’t. That’s a story for another day.

I loved my hometown. But, over the years, it became strange to me. It grew in ways I didn’t want to see it grow. Between the influence of Hollywood Royalty overflow and the assent of pharmaceutical giant Amgen’s campus (along with many other factors) the cost of living in Thousand Oaks exploded. It became more congested. Also, the superficiality of the Hollywood-esque culture there, always a problem, became more and more pronounced, to the point that I felt no desire to kill myself trying to find the money for the high buy-in and the cost of living.

The Thousand Oaks I knew was gone anyway. Wildwood Fort gone. Geppetto’s gone. When I hiked in Wildwood Park, all I could see on the horizon was the encroaching housing developments metastasizing off of the Amgen campus. I remember developers wanted to parcel off the beautiful entrance to Wildwood Park, an open field under a majestic skyline of bluffs (made famous in many Westerns) to turn it into a golf course. And it almost happened. Thank God the residents rose up and put a stop to it…And that little slice of history kind of dovetails into yesterday’s events. Which, I swear, I’ll get back to.

Anyway when Jenny introduced me to Visalia it was kind of like someone turned back the clock on Thousand Oaks. It had that isolated and small, but well managed and bustling air about it that felt like home to me, much more than modern day Thousand Oaks. And there is no Amgen here, and our Hollywood overflow was miles away in Three Rivers (that’s a joke BTW). It just felt right.

Are there issues? Yes! We are in Central Valley ag-land so politics run red here. This area is a strong enclave for the racist tea party movement. We have a high percentage of Fox-News-watching, Limbaughtomized, water-rights-obsessed, gun-loving growers (their partners, advocates and allies) out here. Sure they don’t mind the free water, marketing agreements and subsidies that made it all happen for them, but they hate the “big government” that provides it.

And then you have our US congressional rep, Devin Nunes, who works full time debasing himself in a campaign to protect the aforementioned treasonous President. If you think #PS’s behavior gives anyone in Central Cali pause know this, in our recent jungle primary Nunes defeated his democratic opponent Andrew Janz by over 26%. So yeah…there’s that. And that’s a problem…for me.

And, honestly, that aspect of the local culture has been getting me down about my new hometown a lot. Especially in light of the political and cultural divisiveness we are all coping with and hoping will end and not worsen.

The Event

So with a little bit of dread and in this mix, earlier this year, I became aware of the threat to our local children’s non-profit theatre company, the Enchanted Playhouse. They do a hell of a lot of good for the children of this community with very little. They are on the verge of getting kicked out of their home, the Main Street Theatre, which they leased from the city of Visalia, who seem determined to sell it out from underneath them. Without a dedicated theater, the Enchanted Playhouse company will not survive and without the central downtown location they will lose their prominent placement in the identity of the community.

Last night, the Visalia City Council meeting had on its agenda the vote that would determine the immediate fate of the Main Street Theater Redevelopment and, in so, the fate of its tenants, the Enchanted Playhouse Company.

On paper, it was not looking good for the Enchanted Playhouse. Basically, months ago a bid was accepted by the city from a developer to convert the centrally located downtown theatre landmark (somewhat rundown) into some restaurants. It was all “by the books” but it was also a bit underhanded in the way it was carried out (because the city was not reaching out to Enchanted Playhouse). Any way you looked at it, this was a situation where the city council, by law, had the right to move ahead with the redevelopment, and the theatre company would be hard pressed to do anything about it, without having to get into a big legal battle it could not afford. These are volunteers; no one is making any big time money off this deal. And it’s the money that seems to be the thing causing the confusion.

To keep the background short, there was a time about 14 years ago when the city and the city council went to bat for the company, big time, getting them set up in the location and fighting for it legally. The city spent a lot of money. In return, Enchanted Playhouse, did their part and produced, in a hardscrabble time (they got through the Great Recession) as unpaid volunteers, quality children’s theatre that incorporated local children into the productions. They did this and paid rent to the city. Did I mention that children’s theater non-profits don’t make crazy money? I did, okay.

They presented their productions to the public and schools from all around would bus their students in to see them. It spread culture and joy. It created a farm-team for local live performance talent. But most importantly, it was a haven for artistic children, an extended loving family for these creative, emotional, sensitive kids.

Take my wife [, please! – Ed.], she saw the plays as a child and started performing in them at 18. Knowing my wife as you never will, you can not measure the importance and influence this company had on her life, even as a young adult. How it built her confidence up and inspired her to do other things. How it connected her to new friends who shared her interest in the dramatic arts and who encouraged her to act more and “follow her bliss” (I stopped all that). And you can add her to the thousands of children, young adults and parents changed for the better by this local institution. It’s impossible for me to put into words what it means to so many. What the value of this institution is.

The Enchanted Playhouse at the Main Street Theatre is a unicorn. It should not exist. It can not exist on a purely capitalist playfield, and yet it does exist. It exists because it spouted from the dreams of a merry band of dreamers, of gypsies that found their home. This unicorn creates magic, it inspires the weary, it heals the broken, it saves children’s lives. Literally. Period.

Somehow, in the years that followed the initial support, this connection between the city and the theatre company became disconnected. Council members change, mayors change. Emotionally stunted “businessmen” on the council start to think,

“Do we really need a unicorn? Unicorn food is too expensive. Let’s slaughter the unicorn and sell unicorn steaks! We’ll hang up some flat screens and watch freakishly large men give each other concussions…What?! Some fragile kids can’t play make-believe anymore. Too bad! Have some unicorn steak. It’s delicious. It’s seasoned with salt made from the dehydrated tears of the children.”

It’s fucked up. The city fucked up. They forgot heart and soul makes this city’s downtown what it is. Visalia has a god damn unicorn there. PROTECT IT. Its value can not be quantified in dollars and cents on a spreadsheet. Sorry, mister businessman (aka Mr. Potter), you’re just gonna have to believe me on this one.

It is a family-friendly community hub. And in so, it is priceless and worthy of preservation.

So the people who know what’s at stake (unicorn steak) heard the call of the gypsies and determined to push back on the city. This city council meeting was last night and, under a lot of pressure from the community, the city council wisely made special rules allowing for extra time and moved the meeting to the convention center to allow for extra seating so the theatre company and the community could make a final appeal to ask the city to pause the redevelopment plan to give the Enchanted Playhouse non-profit a second chance to make a bid to keep their home.

Supporters meet at the Main Street Theatre. When we got there, I was disheartened to see it not exactly overflowing with people. Could this rag tag band pull it off? We were looking like the Rebel Alliance. It put fear into me. But somehow, when we marched to the convention center, it started to feel like an unstoppable army.

Then the discussion period opened on the subject. The passion of the people who appealed to the city, over the course of an hour and half, was truly inspirational. The testimony of the children, changed and healed by their experiences with Enchanted Playhouse, moved me to tears multiple times. A father and actor told the story of the memories he had performing with his daughter on that stage, a daughter he lost soon after to a tragic and sudden illness. His testimony and the testimony of so many others declared that stage sacred ground.

And then it went to the five man (old white man) council to make their decision.

The Vote

Well that vote was high drama, too. The council was pretty hard in their opening remarks on Enchanted Playhouse board of directors for not behaving like businessmen (but as we’ve established they’re not businessmen. If they were businessmen they would have opened a sports bar. They are dreamers and unicorn wranglers).

It seemed like all was lost.

The first councilman said he was inclined to vote for redevelopment because the theatre company failed to make their bid in time which he felt showed a lack of responsibility. He asked, “Where were you?” to which many in the crowd answered “We’re here now!” (I think I might have been one of those people) But he deferred his final decision at that point.

We then heard from the second council member, who said he heard the children’s pleas and he would allow for a pause on the redevelopment. I loved this guy.

My heart soared!

Then it got to the third member, he was a hard-assed, old jarhead or jarhead wannabe. A Limbaughtomized douche…I will call him Mr. Potter. Mr. Potter said there are “winners and losers” and the market has decided to kill the unicorn (to paraphrase). He also added that 14 years ago he voted against the initial deal to set up the company at the theatre, as it went against his free market ideals, and he still felt good about that decision today (He probably thinks the NEA is a homosexual, socialist propaganda machine, too). It took a lot of self control for me to not wing my water bottle at his fat head…but I knew it wasn’t about me.

Let’s just say my soaring heart lost an engine and was tilting into a nosedive.

Then we got to the vice mayor who was also not moved by the children. He voted KILL THE UNICORN! I immediately regretted ever spending one cent in this “sweetheart’s” store before it closed (locals will understand). So I was doing the math.

1 undecided (but highly critical of the Enchanted Playhouse)
1 for giving the theatre company a second chance
2 unicorn steaks, rare

My heart was plummeting toward the earth, both engines on fire. The hydraulics were out. I was pulling on the flight stick to no avail.

So now it goes to the mayor. He tears up as he says he acted with his kids and he understands the unicorn. He hears the children. He wants to give the unicorn a shot.

I see a flashing light on the heart control panel. I hit it. One of the propellers starts to spin up again. But the altimeter is still spinning counter-clockwise out of control.

So it goes back to the undecided councilman to break the tie.

The suspense was a 10. He’d already said he was inclined to vote against the theatre. The tension was thick enough to cut with a unicorn steak knife. If he said “Kill the unicorn!”, it was gonna be real sad at the least, real ugly at the worst. He said he was still concerned about the viability of the non-profit to make an offer and that giving them a chance might be a waste of time, but ultimately that the pleas of the children moved him to give the Enchanted Playhouse a second chance.

The unicorn’s execution was stayed!

My heart stopped just before it crashed to the ground. Turns out it ran out of gas, Looney Toons style.

There was great applause and a feeling of sober jubilation. The Enchanted Playhouse was given 90 days by the city council to submit their plan to buy the Main Street Theatre.

Now the hard work and reality of fundraising the money and finding deep pocket backers to make it happen is real. But knowing it is real, knowing they have a chance to save themselves, gives me hope that things everywhere can get better. Knowing I live in a city that listens to dreamers and cares about giving creative children a home made me a believer in the system…for now.

I really hope it works out and I’ll be there if they ever need me to show up for them again.

Long live the Enchanted Playhouse at the Main Street Theatre!

Support your local theatre companies

Support your local theatre companies and children’s theatre non-profits. They need it!

See a local play, See a local musical. If you find a theatre company you like, go again, and again. They need you. Most likely, they killed themselves for months as volunteers with no pay to deliver a once-in-a-lifetime experience to you. They need you there. Movies and TV are great, but believe me, your community can entertain you just as well, if not better…and they want to. In supporting them, you become part of something. You are supporting creativity, expression, culture.  It’s not a fad, it goes back to the beginning of civilization. Civilization is not social media, it is “being there”. Plus, the more you support your local theatre, the better it will get. Experience, support, confidence, as in any endeavor, these things are the fuel of greatness. You don’t have to go to Broadway or the big city. You can witness greatness, right in your hometown, just by showing up. And you will feel the performances unfiltered and direct, a true connection between performers and audience sharing a space. Something that can never be recreated by watching recorded media. If you don’t show up, they can’t do what they do and everybody loses. Support your local unicorn…erm,  I mean theatre community.

What can we do for the Enchanted Playhouse?

I am hoping that a social media fundraising campaign will be launched to drive donations for the purchase of the Main Street Theatre from the city by the Enchanted Playhouse non-profit.

To light a fire under that campaign, I suggest they seek celebrity support, starting with approaching Ellen Degeneres, who has a great track record with these kinds of things. If not her, I have to believe someone with a platform will understand this story, the dire odds Enchanted Playhouse faces, the consequences of inaction, and will get behind making a happy ending for this situation.

Time is of the essence. LET’S MAKE IT HAPPEN!

[Jenny informed me that Ellen’s show came to Visalia  earlier this year to help Washington Elementary’s free dance class program. SHIT!… I mean, good for them… but SHIT! – Ed.]

Save The Enchanted Playhouse

Dear readers, in a change of tone, the following piece is an unabashed heart-on-my-sleeve plea to my city – Visalia, California. We are watching something truly magical and irreplaceable being destroyed, our children’s theatre, the Enchanted Playhouse. A unique non-profit program that invites local children to participate in its productions at their theatre, which is located in the heart of downtown Visalia.

And why is it ending? Money. In a short sighted money grab, the City of Visalia is selling the theatre property from right underneath the theatre company. Selling the location to developers who want to build restaurants in its place. Restaurants. It breaks my heart.

The Enchanted Playhouse is a part of my family’s life, a part of our story. It’s a part of so many people’s lives and stories in this city. It seems a cruel joke to see it so heartlessly discarded by people who don’t understand its importance, its priceless value, its contribution to the heart and soul of downtown.

Can you put a price on magic?

Where do you get your magic?

Is it from a corporation?

Do you buy your magic exclusively from Disney?

You almost have to these days. They’ve bought almost everything.

Disney aside…

Where is real magic found?

It’s not easy to find. It’s delicate and fragile.

I think it comes from love, a gift to the children…to all children.

A place where all children are welcome to come and be enchanted.

A place where all children are welcome to learn the magic of theatrical performance and culture in a loving, safe and inspirational environment. Live a shared experience they will fondly remember for the rest of their lives. A place like none other in the world. A jewel.

Where do you find that magic, when you’ve paved over the wishing well?

When you’ve closed the enchanted story book to the hearts of the children…

for a handful of silver…

How can you take that gift away? The gift of children’s hearts in flight. (I guess you can’t remember why that’s important anymore. Huh?)

Well, was it worth it, what you bought? What you got for that silver.

 

Was it worth it, City of Visalia?

What did you get? Tell me?

Whatever it is, it isn’t enough, and now you’ll lose something much more valuable.

Can’t you see this is “It’s a Wonderful Life”?… Be Jimmy Stewart, be Donna Reed. Don’t be Mr. Potter. Be George Bailey!

The Enchanted Playhouse needs to be protected and supported, City of Visalia. Save this institution and save your soul. Save it if you still can, before it’s too late and you lose something you can never get back.

Something magic.

On Monday 7/16 there will be a meeting at City Hall regarding Enchanted Playhouse Children’s Theater. Please come and give your support.
Facebook Event Link:
https://www.facebook.com/events/267998763936633/.

To learn more about the theatre company and its program, watch this piece about it produced by our local PBS affiliate. https://www.pbs.org/video/enchanted-playhouse-theater-company-charlottes-web-pwbspx/

To learn about the fight to save the Enchanted Playhouse:

http://kingsriverlife.com/07/14/save-the-enchanted-playhouse/

https://www.visaliatimesdelta.com/story/news/2018/07/12/enchanted-playhouse-wants-bid-main-street-theatre/741823002/