Moby Dick ain’t about no Whale

What is the experience of reading an author?
This is a difficult, completely subjective question, but one that is missing from reviews of books. However, I think it is both an untapped subject and a very difficult one.
I don’t have answers to this question. But to use Melville’s Moby Dick as an example, the experience of reading that fantastic tome is completely different, even opposite, to that of reading a summary, a critique, or watching a film, comic book, or operatic adaptation.
What happens when we actually *read* Moby Dick? What happens to us? What does it feel like?
What does it feel like to discover the main characters and then lose them, sometimes whole chapters at a time, as Melville digresses into arcane subjects? Or to zone out during several passages and snap back into focus? Is that part of the experience?
This is why most reviews of books talk plot and nothing else, but as another writer put it, nobody goes to movies for the plot.
I started thinking about this, actually, while I was reading Chuck Klosterman’s recent collection of essays X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century. For one thing, reading Klosterman write about writing puts you at both a distance to what you’re reading and more involved in what he’s writing. And his interviews are just as much about what it is to interview somebody–how questions bubble up through the subconscious; how what is planned measures up to what happens–as they are about their subject.
Anyway, this is just a note about something that I might write more about later.
^^^That is a terrible sentence^^^


Anne Guynn will read "Corrie." Brad Spaulding photos
Anne Guynn will read “Corrie.”
Brad Spaulding photos

In October, the Canadian short-story writer, Alice Munro, now 82-years old, won the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the 13th woman to do so. Speaking of Stories, Santa Barbara’s well-loved evening of stage-read shorts, decided to honor the author with an evening celebrating her 13th and most probably last story collection, “Dear Life,” as Ms. Munro has announced plans to retire. The two performances at Center Stage Theater this Sunday afternoon and Monday evening consist of three stories taken from Ms. Munro’s latest, read by three of SoS’ regulars.

Alice Munro’s work has appeared frequently throughout Speaking of Stories’ history. Executive Director Maggie Mixsell put on her story, “The Bear Goes over the Mountain,” — a tale about Alzheimer’s — after it had been made into the movie, “Away from Her,” for a film-tie-in-based evening. Ms. Munro is better known to the reading crowd, however, not the film crowd, as not many of her stories have been adapted for screen.

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REVIEW FROM HERE : The Renaissance meets Mughal Empire

April 27, 2008 8:37 AM

Salman Rushdie
Random House, $26

Vladislav III, aka Vlad the Impaler, the real Romanian voivode who became the inspiration for Count Dracula, met his end sometime around 1476. Some say he died on the battlefield against the Turks, some have him assassinated by his own men. But the most fantastic and Gothic demise for Vlad has him decapitated and his head sent back to the Sultan in Istanbul, preserved in a jar of honey.
The honey jar episode makes its way into one page of Salman Rushdie’s new novel, “The Enchantress of Florence,” with Vlad just a footnote. But it’s emblematic of this sprawling, fantastic work, the culmination of 10 years of research by the author.
Set during the Renaissance and taking in both its title location and the Mughal Empire (roughly present day India and lands to the north), “The Enchantress of Florence” spins a tale of imaginary and real women, of barbarism and civilization, and of storytelling itself. If it feels like an encyclopedia of knowledge crammed into its 350 pages, don’t worry — Mr. Rushdie includes an extensive bibliography at the end. For those who find his blend of fairy tale, history, and the so-fantastic-it-probably-actually-happened too overwhelming to sift through, there’s always, ahem, Google.
But what of the story, which proceeds less like a straight line and more a series of concentric loops with a zigzag through them? A mysterious traveler from the West arrives at the palace of Akbar the Great bearing a letter from Queen Elizabeth I, but, more importantly, a story that only the Emperor can hear. Akbar, as we have been shown, would rather behead a man than listen to anything a know-it-all foreigner could say, but a wave of enlightenment and a surging feeling of self-doubt have taken a recent hold of him. The man from Florence claims lineage from the complicated family tree of the Mughal Empire and now reaches back to spin a yarn to prove — and also save — himself.
From the start, Mr. Rushdie lets us in on the probable fiction of this man’s tale. But as we are already within a novel that is sewn together from both history and imagination, and where the Emperor’s top wife is a woman that has been created out of the imagination (much to the consternation of his other hundred wives), the waters, while golden around the Emperor’s palace in Fatehpur Sikri, have a considerable muddiness to them.
The storyteller goes by the name of Mogor Dell’Amore (“the Mughal of Love”) but that is not his real or his only name. But as readers follow Mr. Rushdie into the story, they will find that names, like identities, have a way of changing to suit the situation. Everything becomes fluid in “The Enchantress of Florence,” as every character seems to have several names — the main criticism to levy against the book is its potential for confusion for the reader who cannot make it through large chunks of the novel in one sitting. Niccol0x98 Machiavelli takes a starring role, as do the brothers of a certain Amerigo Vespucci (who disappears from the novel in order to have a continent named after him). Literary allusions pop up among the historical ones, and the Three — no, strike that, four — Musketeers turn up in the second half as well.
Mr. Rushdie writes with enjoyable aplomb, spinning on the fantastic and flowery to drop in a street-level bit of realism and humor to mix things up a bit. “The Enchantress of Florence” feels like an old children’s book written for adults, a reminder that the image of far-off lands or of perfect lovers can possess us at any age, and that imagination can change history in the weirdest of ways.

Salman Rushdie will discuss his work with author Pico Iyer at 4 p.m. May 4 at UCSB Campbell Hall as part of UCSB Arts & Lectures. Tickets are $25 general, $15 UCSB students. For tickets, call 893-3535 or go to

©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press


Ted Mills
April 25, 2008 11:41 AM
Way back in the mists of political time, The Nugget in Summerland received a visit from Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton and entourage, which put this wood-paneled restaurant on the local news for a while. T-shirts were sold, as were burgers. Bill may never have returned, but faithful locals have, for years and years, since the restaurant opened its doors in 1960.
Our mixologist entourage may not have a Secret Service detail, but we did enjoy the attention of bartender Wendy Sanders when we dropped in to sample the full bar section of The Nugget. The Clinton burger may have come and gone, but The Nugget’s Bloody Caesar remains on the menu. It’s a brunch favorite (and some say hangover cure) that fans swear by, substituting the garden variety tomato juice with Clamato, and — here’s the odd bit of trivia — remains a popular cocktail in Canada.
The Nugget’s secret is the marinated vodka used in the drink — a week of infusing red, green, and jalapeño peppers in the alcohol produces a spicy base. Along with the usual Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco, Sanders adds balsamic vinegar to the mix. Celery salt lines the rim and a marinated green bean joins the celery stalk. It was not as spicy as one might think, but the pepper taste remained long in the mouth.
The Nugget also has a tradition of serving up martinis in pint glasses and letting the customer use the Hawthorn strainer themselves to pour into the traditional Martini glass. This way, the customer gets two strong drinks for the price of one (and probably winds up drinking them faster too). Sanders, who has been serving since last October, made us one from Chopin vodka, with both an onion and an olive for garnish. Very strong, it was.
In the same vein, Sanders introduced us to the drink that she had been working on for a week, the Parasol. Like its cousins the Sea Breeze and Bay Breeze, the Parasol was born when her friend wanted a light vodka drink (the name, she says, comes from Mary Poppins). With two fruit juices, one to add color, and Triple Sec for more citrus flavor, the Parasol was light and summery. But as a fellow fan down the end of the bar remarked, “it sneaks up on ya!”
For being such a graceful host, Wendy and her concoction get the Drink of the Week.


3 oz. Grey Goose vodka
1/2 oz. Pineapple juice
1/2 oz. Cranberry juice
splash of Triple Sec
Mix ingredients in shaker over ice and strain into martini glass. Garnish with lime.
The Nugget
2318 Lillie Ave., Summerland

©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

ONSTAGE : Steps to success – D.C. satirists return to Lobero for an evening of song and sketches

The Governator gets a makeover when The Capitol Steps come to town.

By Ted Mills, News-Press Correspondent
April 25, 2008 11:14 AM
The Capitol Steps, that beltway bunch of musical satirists returning to the Lobero for their 11th year, run on a fuel that consists of 30 percent parody and 70 percent puns — really groan-worthy puns. For an example, check a slew of song titles: “Help Me Fake It to the Right” (about Mitt Romney), “What Kind of Fuel Am I?” (about bio-fuels), “Electile Dysfunction,” and the title of their latest CD collection, “Campaign and Suffering.”
“I am the culprit behind most of those,” admits co-founder Elaina Newport.
The story of how the Capitol Steps went on to become one of Washington, D.C.’s most reliable institutions and exports — aside from scandals, their bread and butter — has been thoroughly documented. Former Republican staff members on the Senate Subcommittee on Energy, Nuclear Proliferation, and Government Processes, Elaina Newport and Bill Strauss started writing satirical ditties, which led to a performance at a Christmas show in 1981. The success earned them requests, new members (both Republican and Democrat) and a side-career that they eventually made full-time and open to the public.
“It was a fun time for satire,” says Newport about those early years. “Reagan had just come in. He was going from acting to politics and we went from politics to performing.” Bill Strauss has a career in law ahead of him, but chose comedy instead. “I think Bill was also wondering if he’d be in front of a committee one day, being asked, ‘Did you write a song against the President in 1981?”
Strauss passed away late last year at the end of a long illness, but the group, which has seen some 30 odd members in its lifetime, continues on.
As a topical-humor group, the Steps find it the hardest when a politician does not offer obvious traits to puncture. Newport said former candidate Fred Thompson wasn’t too funny until they latched onto his Beverly Hills connection (resulting in a Beverly Hillbillies parody). Or they may be ahead of the audience’s perceptions — when Rudy Giuliani looked to be the obvious GOP nominee, the Steps were making fun of his constant reference to 9/11. The routine “wasn’t quite connecting” until Joe Biden pointed out, in his now famous quote from the debates, “there’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb and 9/11.” Then the routine worked ? and Rudy dropped out.
“We had a song called ‘McCain’s Campaign Is Clearly Down the Drain,’ when we didn’t know who was going to be the main candidate,” she adds. But then, nobody looks to a comedy troupe for prognostication. For the most part, songs about the economy, scandals, and other countries remain popular. A skit about airport security also does well, and springs from the group’s own experience. “The TSA has seized some of our props on tour,” Newport says. “We do skits on terrorism, so we have plastic grenades and guns. We had a skit with a gas-mask, that never made it through either.” No wonder the Steps dress up their TSA security guard as an axe-wielding barbarian.
The Steps remain fiercely bipartisan, but unlike Congress, they all get along well. Newport, like all the others, has to bite her tongue even when a politician she likes is the subject of derision. “I was upset when they tried to swift-boat John Kerry,” she says. “I mean, he did serve in Vietnam.” The group still went ahead with their parody “Fakey Purple Heart,” set to the Billy-Ray Cyrus song.
Still, their targets take it all in stride. Most even request their songs, like former presidents Reagan and Bush Sr. Others are disappointed when there isn’t a song about them. And for those politicians who don’t have any sense of humor at all?
“I can’t name them,” Newport says, sounding protective. “Because they don’t turn up.”
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday
Where: Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St.
Cost: $25 to $35
Information: 963-0761,
©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

ONSTAGE : Primordial modern – Eiko & Koma brings mournful, earthy dance to UCSB

By Ted Mills, News-Press Correspondent
April 25, 2008 11:10 AM
“Sometimes I feel that part of ‘evolving’ is a liberty to de-evolve,” says Eiko of Eiko and Koma, the wife and husband dance duo. “We do a lot of animalistic movement, but that is not imitation. That is us remembering what it was like to be animals.” The provocative career of this couple, now in its third decade, has long explored those connections of man and the environment, as well as its disconnect. Eiko and Koma’s often-ghostly white pallor, the strange beauty of their movements, and their archaic stage environments will all be taken to the next level in their live collaboration with avant-garde pianist Margaret Leng Tan this Thursday night at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. The evening-length work is entitled “Mourning.”
Eiko underlines the idea of Tan as collaborator, not just accompanist, and that “Mourning” should be seen not as an evening of dance with music, but rather one of music with dance. “Tan is a fellow artist,” Eiko says. “She’s a strong performer and pianist. As such she is very much in her own world.”
But the same could be said about Eiko and Koma. Both developed their art while in college in Tokyo, during the turbulent years of the late ’60s and early ’70s. As in the West, the youth of Japan rebelled against their government, and by extension, all authority.
“We were both part of the anti-Vietnam, post-war questioning that was going on,” Eiko says. “Before we met each other we were both active. And we both dropped out. Even among the anti-war sects there was a lot of antagonism. So I went to talk to my dance teacher. I wanted something to grapple with. I wanted to find a way to communicate my ideas without arguing.”
Eiko’s teachers were Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, both modern dance legends who are seen as the originators of Butoh dance. Though Eiko and Koma’s works share some qualities with Butoh, such as the unsettling imagery, white make-up, and grotesque movement, Eiko says they never properly studied the style.
“I don’t think of them as Butoh masters,” she says. “We have a spiritual tie with them, but ? we were bad students anyway.” Any teachers at that time, she says, were still authority figures.
Instead, once Eiko had met Koma, they developed their own style and moved away from Japan to Germany, then to New York.
“It was a way of trying out our relationship,” she says. “And along the way we realized what we could do. We realized we had become one.” That relationship has held strong over the years since their first performance in 1971. They have always performed as a duo, and Eiko says that through this time, certain themes have continued: “The relationship with nature, how things that are vulnerable change so rapidly; how technology has caused these things.”
Those themes continue in a way with the collaboration with Tan. The pianist, who is well-known for her recordings of John Cage works — she worked closely with the composer in the last decade of his life — brought hours worth of selections to the first (professional) meeting with Eiko and Koma two years ago.
“She played for hours from her repertory,” says Eiko. Some of the pieces that made their way into “Mourning” include Somei Satoh’s “Litania” and Cage’s “In the Name of the Holocaust.” The Cage piece caused some problems from the point of view of a dancer.
“The first time I heard it I immediately thought, this is not good,” says Eiko, “This is kind of impossible to dance to ? we knew it would be a very dangerous place that we were stepping into. The emotion that goes with it ? it’s a very strong wave of emotions. It’s almost unwelcome.”
But entering that uncomfortable space, being in it, and, as Eiko points out, highlighting the space as much as the dancer, is part of Eiko and Koma’s art. Even this far into their career, for Eiko and Koma to feel unsure and to push forward shows they haven’t lost their nerve.
“Margaret’s playing is so precise, so necessary, so urgent, and our dance is . . . arbitrary,” she says with half a laugh. “It’s suicidal for us to be working with her.”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Campbell Hall, UCSB
Cost: $35 general, $19 students
Information: 893-3535,
©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

Nothing soft about it – ‘The Pillowman’ disturbs, but might be Genesis West’s best production

Katurian (Jeff Mills, seated) is questioned by officers Ariel (Tom Hinshaw, middle) and Tupolski (Dirk Blocker, right) about crimes he says he did not commit.

April 23, 2008 8:52 AM

Theater director Maurice Lord might have a thing for torture. Not that he likes it. Rather, he seems to have been shaken to the core since the 2004 revelations at Abu Ghraib prison. Or maybe it is just the tenor of the times. Either way, since Genesis West’s resuscitation in 2005, the plays he has directed for his company have been colored in various shades of black, with a sheen of bitter, gallows humor. Sam Shepard’s “The God of Hell” featured an electro-shock chastity belt and a hyper-patriotic salesman/torturer. Caryl Churchill’s “Far Away” featured public humiliation and execution as a backdrop for factory workers discussing their tedious jobs.
With Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman,” — having premiered Thursday at Center Stage Theater — Genesis West has produced one of its best shows, if not one of its darkest. Read the ingredients on the box: patricide, child murder and torture (with and without a quick death to follow).
But — and with Genesis West there’s always a but — “The Pillowman” delivers laughter and some profoundly moving moments. How is this possible?
Playwright Mr. McDonagh has become a familiar name to filmgoers with his recent film, “In Bruges,” which manages a similar blend of comedy and violence and insists on being serious about both. In fact, the two officers we meet at the beginning of “The Pillowman” — one a detective, one a policeman — remind us of the hit men duo featured in his film. Here, though, Tupolski (Dirk Blocker) and Ariel (Tom Hinshaw) interrogate, torture and threaten to kill their main suspect, Katurian (Jeff Mills), for crimes he says he did not commit. As Tupolski reminds us, this is a totalitarian police state, so forget the trial. (Mr. McDonagh never sets the play in a real location, instead placing it in some odd blend of Ireland, big-city America and Eastern Europe.)
Tupolski and Ariel suspect Katurian of a series of gruesome child murders, and their methods come directly from short, unpublished horror stories Katurian has written. The detective has a box-file of Katurian’s collected works, and Ariel has a car battery with a set of electrodes ready to be used to extract a confession. They also have Katurian’s mentally challenged brother, Michal (Matt Tavianini), in a separate cell next door, and they have an incriminating confession from him.
“The Pillowman” — the title comes from one of Katurian’s stories — uses its police-state setting to pitch its ideas about guilt, authorship and child abuse at a desperate level. Katurian’s ability to spin horrific narratives out of a complicated and difficult childhood, and the intersections of reality and fiction that weave in and out of the play, serve to both save and damn him. “The Pillowman” is not one of those plays that intentionally muddles a real and an imaginary storyline, however, but one that precedes like detective work, uncovering clues and reshaping what we believe is the truth as the play proceeds forward in time and backwards in remembrance. It also asks if a miserable life can be worth living and if shreds of hope and love are enough in a life laden with abuse and violence.
But as aforementioned, the play manages to be quite funny, from Tupolski and Ariel’s strange and codependent working relationship to Katurian’s short stories, which taken as literature might never make it out of a writing workshop. Tupolski responds later with a story just as improbable and allegorically confusing as that of the accused. Mr. McDonagh’s banter reveals shades of Irish slang and inflection, but Mr. Lord chooses wisely to keep things in varying shades of American accents.
Jeff Mills and Matt Tavianini both come from Boxtales, their usual theatrical stomping ground, and while playing brothers, they seem well suited to a play centered around storytelling. When Katurian isn’t stuck in a cell being grilled, he is off to the side in a chair telling us stories about his childhood, which are illustrated dumb-show-like on a raised, recessed area of the stage, with Leslie Gangl-Howe and Howard Howe playing abusive, Gothic parents, and Rudy Martinez and Amanda Berning playing the children. Tim Burton would approve of the devilish glee in which Mr. Lord stages these horrible tableaux. (And thanks goes to set and lighting designer Theodore Michael Dolas for making it so mesmerizing).
Mr. Mills and Mr. Tavianini form the emotional core of the play, but Dirk Blocker and Tom Hinshaw are equally delightful to watch. Mr. Lord has worked with Mr. Hinshaw in nearly every Genesis West production — having him play a torturer with a tender streak is one of the director’s most clever choices. Mr. Blocker, who does most of his work in television and film, begins as a stereotypical detective, but then reveals multiple shades and facets.
All of which makes the final moments in “The Pillowman” so jarring, unexpected and grimly satisfying. You can’t say you haven’t been warned.


When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and May 1-3
Where: Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo, upstairs
Cost: $25, $20 students
Information: 963-0408,

©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press

Soul of Solodon : Goleta-based singer releases her first EP

Singer Becca Solodon’s album “In My Room,” released today on the Internet, will come out on CD next month.

April 16, 2008 7:41 AM

At 21, singer-songwriter and composer Becca Solodon stands on the threshold of the second stage of her career. Today her first EP, “In My Room,” was released on the Internet, to be followed next month on CD. And though it may be her first release, Miss Solodon has been careful in this, her first real volley into the pop world.
When she was 16, Miss Solodon was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, which led to the amputation of one leg below the calf. During this process, her dreams of becoming a professional singer led to some extraordinary connections. Just six weeks after leaving the hospital, she opened for Mariah Carey, one of her idols, during the star’s 2003 Santa Barbara appearance. Not long after that appearance, Miss Solodon was approached by at least three labels.
“I was offered contracts, but I knew it wasn’t the right time,” she said. “I took them to my lawyer and he said I’d be absolutely insane to sign them.”
Instead, Miss Solodon buckled down and began writing. A lot. And most of it at home.
“In My Room” refers in part to where most of that writing and recording takes place, and where she creates her romantic blend of pop and R&B.
“Half is my bedroom, the other half is my studio,” she said. “In 2003 I got my keyboard and ProTools (the sound production software), and in 2004 I got a microphone and put studio foam on the walls.”
The home studio became Miss Solodon’s musical laboratory, although she’s also befriended many producers along the way, including Ronnie King and Damion “Damizza” Young.
“They both pushed me to develop my songwriting before I started releasing anything. I was still writing and growing as an artist (in 2003).”
One of the first songs that, in Miss Solodon’s mind, reflects her true style as an artist is “Simply Irresistible,” created as a collaboration between the singer and a Finnish musician, Ves Rain, with whom she shares a common friend. Mr. Rain sent a song sketch via Internet, Miss Solodon sent back a vocal track, and Mr. Rain recorded the track live with musicians in Finland.
Other tracks on the six-song EP come straight from Miss Solodon’s home studio.
“It took me a while to learn, but I have recording down very well,” she said. “I’m quite picky, actually, especially about vocals. In the chorus sections, I have tons of harmonies, all my own. Mixing vocals is my specialty.”
One song close to her heart is “Always Watching Over Me,” dedicated to a younger friend, Krista Romero, who passed away last year from leukemia.
Miss Solodon met Krista at the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, which, along with other organizations like the Make-a-Wish Foundation, helped Miss Solodon with her own illness.
“Going to see Krista (in the hospital) was like seeing a younger version of myself,” she said. “And meeting her parents reminded me of my own. I knew what she was going through. She may be gone, but she will live on through the song.”
Since 2003, Miss Solodon’s once-hobby has now become a passion, and despite being a full-time student and working part time at the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, she has been pulling many late-night sessions to get the EP ready.
A full album of new material is planned for September, and she is still lining up concerts.
On May 3, Miss Solodon will perform at UCSB’s Relay for Life and that same night at a benefit show at the Santa Barbara Woman’s Club. An end-of-semester concert at City College is also in the works.

Becca Solodon’s six-track EP “In My Room” is available at

©2008 Santa Barbara News-Press