Saturday, January 8, 2011

'Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?"

As the second week of the new-year has started, I've noticed that already peoples' radical commitments for the new-year have begun to subside. It makes sense if you think about it, it usually takes at least a week for the born again feelings to subside, and then human nature is faced with the daunting task of actually fulfilling the bold commitments they have made, without the elevation of feelings, without the collective bargaining, without the new and better day. Perhaps I'm harping on this because I had my writers workshop today, and there were just three of us, the experienced writers who know what it is to write against all odds. Not that it was not a lively discussion we had, it was, but several were missing, and it gave me a pause in my own commitment to fulfilling my own initial enthusiasm, even though I know the ebb and tide of such groups.

I also went on the First Friday art walk last night, and was shocked to see how the whole art scene here in Phoenix has changed. I checked myself to see if I was being cynical, but alas, I had been given a great and optimistic day, so I was ready to maintain my heightened sense of positive notion, but I'm sorry to say I was brought down to a prosaic reality by walking around the galleries and observing the crowd. Finally, I was reduced to admitting that the First Friday Art Walk had become a scene, and not a positive one, as the crowd had been reduced to mostly junior high school students, and the art looked like it came from bargain bins from the dollar store. I'm not an art snob, in fact I would say that I'm one of those people who really want your art to succeed, but I felt last night the way I felt this morning when all my young writers failed to show. To young writers and artists: Wanting and talking about being an artist or a writer is one thing, doing it is something else entirely, the conditions will never be exactly like you want them to be, so get off your ass and get to work! Oh, I am used to the coffeed up or liquored up rhetoric of all the things one is going to do, I've certainly listened and participated in my fair share of it, but I still maintain the philosophy I've kept with me from Genet, that "we are defined by what we do and not by what we say we will do..." Sound familiar? With all my optimism I take to each place I land, I once again came to the realization as to why I left this city in the first place, because the art scene has no skeleton, or perhaps I haven't been back long enough to find where it has buried itself. Is there a skull out there that someone can lead me to? The other cliché that comes to mind, however, is that if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. So, I will write about it, think about it, and then take what action I can to create any kind of scene I can, and I do know that sometimes where there is an absence of art there is a very definite need, (even when people don't know what they need) and so I will seek to fulfill what little of it that I can.

The discussion I did have this morning with Chuck and Gerry was interesting if not a bit of a downer. Many real conversations I've noticed these days, start out with the state of the economy, and then we proceeded on to talking about the smaller audiences that are still participating in the blood sport that is theatre. As I was driving home, I was thinking about the period in the seventies when I was contemplating pursuing a life in the theatre and the writing life, when there was still a certain magic and movement there, as the seventies gave way to a certain golden age of all things artistic and idealistic. I think particularly this movement took place in film and music, still, there was also a vibrant theatre scene happening, and one could still write a good working class or protest play and have an impact. And then, in the late eighties and early nineties, with the advent of the AIDS crisis, there was a definite spike in all things being said in the arts community. The last decade however, in my observation, the theatre community and its audience have become a little lost, and has become more of an elite art form, as ticket prices have soared, and attention spans have dispersed.

After the evening of looking for art, my brother and I ended up at a movie theatre at The Tempe Marketplace, its obvious where the universal audiences can be found. Film or better said, movies, is where you find the mixture of the young and old, lower classes, upper classes, and what is left of the middle class, looking for something out there to find some escape from the day to day act of living. Then there was the movie we saw, 'Country Strong', which I wanted to be good, but it was filled with the same story I've seen a thousand times, the demise of the country western singer. It was entertaining, the acting was first rate, but the screenplay was nothing more than a good outline to start with, the screenplay was far from finished, and so in the end it was disappointing. I've seen so much lately, both in song and film, of this genre, that is so disconnected. How can there be so much money spent on something that departs so much from anything authentic? Are there any real cowboys left? Has the music and film world lost complete contact with what is authentically rural and country? I really believe it has. Perhaps it’s the disappearance of the age and generation where there was still a reason to have a romance with things from the country. I can tell you, none of the boots in this movie had any cow shit on them, and the cowboy hats where stained, I'm afraid, with artificial sweat. There was a great ford truck in the film, but it kept popping up in places it never should have been. (There was a very obvious illogical mistake with the truck showing up in different cities during a tour with no driver) In my estimation, the truck unknowingly, however, became a symbol of what, yes, I'm going to say it, with "how it used to be…" Film does not lie, but Hollywood does, and so often doesn't do it well.

All was not lost, I went to sleep believing in what I do, and believing that what I am trying to say has some authenticity to it. I realized watching this movie that I am fortunate to have had a grandfather who was one of the great American cowboys, and a father who could sing country music because he had lived it. As poorly as these men sometimes lived their lives, they were still role models that left me remnants of things that were powerfully poetic and romantic, and I am grateful to have watched and to have been a part of these two generations of men. That is why I'm excited about the rural tours of 'Bohemian Cowboy', because this is my audience, and they are an audience that will know how to give something back. I went to sleep re-memorizing lines from the show, and I went to sleep on this exact line, "There are few things in this life that can hold you like a good sleeping bag can, my friend…"

There is also good news in that I am finding that I'm always excited to get to the writing, wherever I am. If I'm driving, working, running errands, or even sleeping, I'm finding that I can't wait to get to the writing, and well, this is a part of that writing. Don't let the second week of the new year sway you from your convictions, remember, "endurance is the ability to remain…" Even though less of the human race seems to be enduring, my hope is that what is remaining can still be reworked and re-created. Talk is cheap. When the day begins, the only way to dig a garden row or a ditch is to grab a shovel. And believe me, people will know you and recognize you from your shovel, and bullshit may be a great fertilizer, but you have to get the seed into the dirt, and you have to water it, constantly, to grow something that you can really eat...


Chuckh said...

I am starting to wonder if the death of journalism and news papers also spells the death of live theatre, after all the audience has to participate in both. I think a way out of this dilemma is to make theatre relevant again. And by that I don't mean dumming it down but making it exciting! I mean, Entertainment through original ideas and presentment. Shock the senses, challenge the core of a persons being, and nudge them into realizing something about life and love. And have crazed clown jugglers in the lobby. Who knows? Perhaps that's why Martin McDonagh's plays are so well met. They challenge the viewer and the guns go bang!

Gerry said...

I do think a workshop has to start with a feeling of genuine comraderie among the members which may be hard to come by for the young, but if they do extend themselves the rewards will come. I am so glad to have you back in Phoenix, as I know your time here I will enjoy immensely because you will always be filled with creative ideas that you will find outlet for here. I think a reality fix is in order to figure out what is happening here and can happen and adjustments will need to be made, but those are always necessary. I went home and practiced my one woman show to see if I had anything worth doing. I don't know if I do, but I was motivated to work on it. I do think it is necessary to figure out where things are happening which may not be in Phoenix, but with the Internet you can work anyplace and direct movement toward places you think might be more supportive. While you explore Phoenix once again for inspiration which you are bound to find just by being here and staying active!

Louisa said...

Keep making theatre, Raymond. If it's good, they will come. Stay in one place. And consider yourself part of the elite -- not excluded from it -- by the sheer fact that you can write, and that you can and do choose to live a life of creative discovery. said...

I love the picture you posted. Where did you find it and who is the artist? Curious.
Do you think Country Cowboys will make best picture?
What I wonder is without actually talking..except on cell phones, will people even know how to talk and react on scene? Will our kids actually learn to interact? Where will this 'isolated human life' lead?
I wonder. said...

I actually thought those four young men were standing in front of a school bus...are you sure they are not? I figured the cowboys have gone off to school instead of riding the range as any sensible child of an 'old time cowboy' would. They wouldn't want that hard life having grown up part of it.