About Town - March, 2008

Monday, March 31, 2008

Earth Hour

We did it on Saturday, and enjoyed it so much we did it again on Sunday. Here's what one companion had to say about our power-free hours:

"Instead of being distracted by videogames and movies and music and TV, we talked. And laughed. And it almost felt like a drag to turn the lights back on. There's something really simple about sitting around in candlelight."

Now my goal is to have Earth Hour every night. It may not be going as far as this girl, but one hour of candlelight every evening sounds quite cozy to me.

3/31/2008 10:02:54 AM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [0] |  

Friday, March 28, 2008

Declaring "Rock War"

Topsham-based rock band BlackBridge have been invited to the "Live Indie Rock Wars" in Las Vegas the final weekend in April to compete with 19 other bands from around the country for a $50,000 recording contract with Black Mountain Records. They're hoping to do a bit of a "Road to the Rock Wars" tour on the way out to Vegas, perhaps to be kicked off by a show in Portland in a couple weeks. Seems like the contest is a first, so we'll see how it goes. Wish 'em luck, anyway - can't hurt!

3/28/2008 2:16:05 PM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [0] |  

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Blethen bad news gets worse

We know the news hasn't been good for the Seattle Times folks of late, or for their soon-to-be ex-colleagues at the Blethen Maine Newspapers (the Press Herald/Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal, and Morning Sentinel).

It's been bad for a while, but it just got even worse. Sure, we told you back in August 2006 that the Press Herald would soon be for sale, and we told you (20 minutes before the Press Herald's own Web site told you) when that became official company policy on St. Patrick's Day. And we mentioned the coverage of that announcement, as well as some thoughts on who might buy the papers.

We told you in August 2007 that the Press Herald had lost 27 percent of its advertising revenue in the previous two-and-a-half years.

In October 2007, we explored how "convergence" and multimedia journalism were being done at the Press Herald (or rather, not done; we can now add to that failure the elimination earlier this month of the job of "Online Reporter" held by Dieter Bradbury).

In December 2007, we revealed that an alert Phoenix reader told the world something the Press Herald brass hadn't - that Plum Creek CEO Rick Holley was a personal friend of Frank Blethen and a member of the family-dominated corporate board that oversees the paper.

We told you in early January that Frank Blethen had predicted that 2008 would be a terrible year requiring "deep cuts" for the company. And we told you a couple weeks ago that the layoffs had begun.

In February, we explained how Press Herald editor Jeannine Guttman failed to understand the results of a Pew Research Center report on what kinds of news interest men and women - and that men and women are very interested, at roughly equal levels, in breaking news and important issues of the day. She spent most of her time talking about how the paper offers NASCAR news and recipes to combine into one publication so many niche-market topics that you could almost call the Press Herald a niche sausage.

And earlier this month, I wrote about a blogger determined to draw attention to the Press Herald's journalistic shortcomings (a blogger who just today wrote in a posting that he is depressed about the paper's future prospects, and said he is "done wasting energy" on "the Seattle Blethens and their local minions;" what that means for future posts is unclear).

But now comes even worse news, from Seattle, via Crosscut and its intrepid reporter Bill Richards, who has worked for the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and has covered the Blethens for many years: Not only are print-ad revenues down, but they're down more than the Blethens expected. And online-ad revenues are also down, which suggests the Blethens' plans for future profits may be shrinking.

So however long they have to wait before they can unload the Maine papers, another question lingers for the Blethens - one certainly closer to their hearts: how long can they hang onto the Seattle Times, their family's flagship paper, before it collapses?

3/27/2008 2:06:32 PM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [0] |  

Three for Thursday: A short roundup of items

ITEM 1: Hillary's Snowe Job It turns out that the story Hillary Clinton told about when she visited Bosnia (you know, the made-up one about landing under sniper fire and running off the tarmac - the following video from CBS is the best) is true - just not for Hillary.

It actually happened to US Senator Olympia Snowe, the Washington Post reports today. Anyone else think it's odd that a Clinton Dem steals a story from a Bush Republican?

ITEM 2: College Repubs seeking revenge? Six members of the Maine College Republicans will be running for the Maine State House this fall, according to a release from that organization. No doubt they're remembering a move by a member of their own party (that's Representative Gary Knight of Livermore Falls) to prevent college students from voting in the towns where they live while going to college - an effort that failed in the last legislative session, after coming under fire from Maine College Democrats, constitutional scholars, and others around the country. What will their position on the bill be if it comes up again? No word yet. The real rules for voter residency and eligibility are here.

ITEM 3: Pianist perplexion A strange press release was the result of confusion, not snubbing, according to Portland Symphony Orchestra PR person Gillian Britt of gBritt PR. Her firm released an announcement last week that pianist Yuja Wang would not be appearing with the PSO on April 1 as previously scheduled, attributing the cancellation to "uncontrollable changes in her tour schedule." We got a query from an alert reader who asked whether that was obfuscation, because Wang had actually agreed to step in for Murray Perahia with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in Boston the following day. (Perahia has a chronic hand injury that flares up at times, forcing him to cancel some appearances.) Turns out that the press release simply left out the information that Wang had long before agreed to be a stand-in for Perahia throughout his tour, and while she was indeed canceling her Portland appearance as a result of that, she wasn't just ditching us for a chance to play that Other City to the south of us. (Stewart Goodyear will perform the April 1 show with the PSO.)

3/27/2008 11:58:05 AM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [0] |  

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Jan Schakowsky comes to Maine

Just got word that Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a stalwart progressive, anti-war legislator, will be campaigning in Portland tomorrow night (18 Neal Street, from 5:30-7 p.m.) for Congressional District One candidate Chellie Pingree.

While this Colbert Report appearance has little to do with Schakowsky's politics, it's worth watching if only to see how elegantly she handles herself when the comedic genius dips a pork rind into a jar of Fluff -- and eats it.

3/26/2008 3:15:05 PM by Deirdre Fulton | Comments [0] |  

I Quit chronicles quarterlife dilemma

It's a scenario that's all too familiar to some of us: The post-college-graduation blues, marked by professional aimlessness, financial instability, and romantic insecurities. We jump from job to job, we live with our parents and depend on them to pay our bills, we wait forever to get hitched. Confusion, and sometimes depression, ensues. Is this phenomenon unique to middle-class Gen X and Yers? Is it the result of childhood coddling, or of having too many choices at our fingertips? And regardless of the cause, what can we do to find stability, or at least maintain our sanity?

These questions have been addressed -- but never quite answered -- in books, in TV shows, and in movies. Now Portland has its own exploration of the subject in I Quit, a feature film produced by Portland Films and premiering tonight at the Nickelodeon.

I Quit follows the character of Issac, "
who can talk his way into any job, but can’t keep one," according to the website synopsis. The film, written and directed by South Portlander Bryan O'Connor, features Portland Phoenix Short Film Festival zombie-winner Jarrod Anderson, as well as local actors Sam Applegate and Michael Best. (Full disclosure: Best and I are currently performing together in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at Portland Players.) It was filmed during the early months of 2007; the crew then had to use five different editing programs to piece their work together, and at one point feared all their film would be unusable, says executive producer Matt Byron.

The 1.5-hour film survived, however, and will show tonight at 8 and 10 p.m. at the Nick. Tickets are $5.

Here's a trailer:

We'll let Anderson have the final word: "I hope this movie serves as a stepping stone for everybody involved. Local independent, digital film-making is still in such an infantile stage. I want this movie to be part of the ever growing pantheon of Maine cinema. There was a lot of talent on this production and I'd love to work again with anybody that was involved with I QUIT. I hope that Spielburg and Lucas see this movie, so they know...that we're coming for them."

3/26/2008 9:12:32 AM by Deirdre Fulton | Comments [0] |  

Candidate debate @ SPACE tonight

All eight Congressional District One candidates are confirmed to attend tonight's League of Young Voters debate at SPACE Gallery tonight, according to the League's Katie Diamond (although Charlie Summers, who is currently serving in Iraq, will send a stand-in). The event is co-sponsored by the League and the Professional Firefighters of Maine. In addition to standard opening remarks and prepared questions (posed by moderator Justin Ellis, of the PPH), each candidate will be able to direct one question to any other candidate of their choosing -- and depending on the candidates' creativity, this could be highly entertaining. The festivities start at 6:30 p.m. If you're like me and have a packed schedule tonight, you can still catch the forum on Portland's Community Television Network.

3/26/2008 8:55:22 AM by Deirdre Fulton | Comments [0] |  

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Handing over the reins - Mad Horse changes riders

As longtime Mad Horse Theater Company artistic director Andy Sokoloff leaves the company in pursuit of a new career, some longtime members are stepping in to take over.

Barb Truex, who has helped with Mad Horse for several years, will be the new executive director. Christine Louise Marshall, a veteran performer and costume designer for Mad Horse, will be the artistic director. Peter Brown, Portland Stage Company's production manager (and a PSC Affiliate Artist), who has been a Mad Horse member since 2005, will be the associate artistic director. (He was also named one of Portland's Most Influential People Under 35 in the Arts by the Portland Phoenix back in 2003.)

Also joining the company are six new members: Brent Askari, Burke Brimmer, Shannon Campbell, Elizabeth Chambers, Jennifer Halm-Perazone, and James Herrera.

Mad Horse took the opportunity to announce their new season, too, which will feature The Children's Hour by Lillian Hellman, The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl, and The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer as featured productions, and for the late-night shows, A Life in the Theater by David Mamet and Danny and the Deep Blue Sea by John Patrick Shanley (plus one more TBD).

We spotted a few familiar faces in the crowd, too; in addition to those already named above, and a pile of cast members, supporters, and funders of Mad Horse, were the following: Ricky Boy Floyd (of the Horror and late of Granny's, now of MediaPower), Muriel Kenderdine (of Cast & Crew), Carolyn Gage (acclaimed playwright), Anita Stewart (PSC artistic director), Camilla Barrantes (PSC managing director), and Tony and Susan Reilly (of AIRE).

3/25/2008 9:06:50 AM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [0] |  

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Let's Talk About Our Pasts

If Carl Wilson hadn’t mentioned Elliott Smith in his book about Celine Dion (reviewed here), I don’t think Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste would have made such an impact on me. I spend about one paragraph of the review hinting at the emotional ton of bricks Wilson’s book heaved upon me:

“Those who bemoan it [naked inspiration and catharsis in popular music] aren’t necessarily averse to emotion - the artifacts of indie culture are, by and large, quite sensitive - but they recoil at seeing it laid bare. Elitists prize ambiguity, art shrouded in dualities and murkiness. It’s Dion’s ‘Love can touch us one time/And last for a lifetime’ versus Elliott Smith’s ‘And I try to be but you know me/I come back when you want me to.’ If Smith’s weary resignation what appeals to us [sic], what does that say about our emotional health?”

I started listening to Elliott Smith in early 1998, after Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting hit local theaters and immediately became my favorite movie ever (I kept a list. I was 14.) Beginning with the movie’s soundtrack - Smith classics interspersed with songs by the Dandy Warhols, Luscious Jackson, Al Green, among others - I quickly snatched up his three early albums, his major label debut, XO (which came out a few months later), and every demo and live cut I could find on Napster.

His music, I thought, didn’t just define me; it made me. I was a mellow, tasteless child. I listened to whatever was around, can’t recall a single hobby I had for more than a month or two. My main concern was fitting in and getting by, which in middle school and early high school is a really confusing process, as people idly branch off into “geeks,” “drinkers,” “smokers,” and whatever other categories. I wasn’t a cool kid or an outcast, but I wasn’t all that impressed with any of the clique options availed to me.

Smith, who Wilson aptly calls one of the “world’s fragile, unlovely outcasts,” helped me slip into my skin. His appeal was entire. He was quiet, usually calm, a little detached, pretty sad but not entirely pessimistic. He expressed my skepticism (“Everybody’s dying just to get the disease”) and chessily triumphant flights of fancy (“Got me singing along with some half-hearted victory song”). He basically made things make sense, in myriad barely describable ways, and it made me happier to know what I was wallowing about. And I did get happier. High school worked out.

Things got shakier when I made what, in retrospect, seems like one of the worst decisions you can make before going to college. That is, you decide you have a paralyzing crush on a classmate months before you part ways. Then what do you do? A lot of moping around, a lot of debating whether or not to confess your (sudden) feelings... a lot of looking for advice in Elliott Smith lyrics. You do a lot of other things too, most of which I just decided don’t fit into the purview of a blog post. Long story short: you repress a lot of ill-expressed emotions and eventually, to borrow a title of one of Smith’s songs, bottle up and explode.

Relating this back to Wilson’s book, the idea of repression’s pretty important. By basically allowing one musician to speak to a lot of emotions I’ve got so I don’t have to, there’s not a whole lot of growing up going on. Not a lot of reaching higher, like Celine might’ve wanted me to do. In the fall of 2003, while I’m studying abroad in London for a semester, Smith dies of an apparent suicide, a stab wound to the heart. Pretty devastating news, but I think that whatever ethic Smith’s music instilled in me made me handle it okay. Not maturely, though. I didn’t really face it, just repressed it and moved on.

I haven’t listened to Elliott Smith much since his final studio album, 2004’s posthumous From a Basement on the Hill (which foreshadows his suicide much more overtly than his other albums do), was released. Last year, a two-disc set of rarities called New Moon came out, which I’ve barely touched since it came out. Finishing up Wilson’s book, it seemed a strange behavior that I’d essentially avoided the album, full of songs from my favorite period of Smith’s work. I sampled some of it, wrapped up in thinking about all of this history, all of this me I attributed to someone else, but I couldn’t really listen to it. I didn’t want the words to sink in. To an extent, I’ve