Stoners are some of my favorite people in the world. I lived with a pair of them for a year. One was constantly trying to get me high, to the point of giving me a pot brownie and lying to my face that there were no, um, herbal supplements in it. Stupid of me to believe him, but I’m trusting. (I prefer not to say gullible.) I really think “musicianstoner” should be a word. I hung out with musicianstoners in high school, and to an extent, I still do today. They’re very non-judgmental. Some of them were talented musicians; some of them were in bands that knew they sucked and didn’t care. I enjoyed almost all of their concerts. An actor I met once told me that if you see a friend in a show that isn’t any good but you still want to support them, the proper thing to say is, “It looks like you had fun out there.” It’s perfect—a backhanded compliment that sounds a lot nicer than it is. Except that in the case of my musicianstoner friends, it was never an insult. In the garage band days of my youth, the quality of the music was tangential to the whole experience. I just liked being there.
I’ve said before that I like to hang around theater people. A big part of that is that they’re pretentious twats, and I find that deeply amusing. Another is that performing is the safest space for one looking to make a complete idiot out of themselves. My favorite thing about taking acting classes was all of the ridiculous shit we did to get inside the heads of our characters. For one exercise, we had to imagine ourselves as animals and crawl around on the floor for a while as our teacher told us to look for food and a place to sleep. A passerby would look in the window and see grown men and women acting like gorillas, lions, and stoats. (I actually spent time on Wikipedia reading about the various members of the Mustelidae family so that I could decide whether a ferret or a weasel would be a better fit.) And that’s just what we do to prepare for roles. I know people who have had to get naked, eat people alive, and of course, cross-dress and sing dirty songs about the opposite (same) sex onstage. It’s just like playing in one’s backyard, but with more innuendo.
Naturally, this is not a pleasure reserved for theater folk. One of my most indelible memories from high school was a concert I attended in a friend’s garage. (Where else?) I brought along a notebook so I could get some work done on a story I was writing for the Creative Writing Club. Late in the show, another friend told me that I needed to stand up. I did. He then pushed me to the front of the crowd where the lead singer, so pleased at seeing me participate, began to grind against me while the man who’d gotten me to stand up started the crowd on a chant of my name. I just came to see a show. I don’t actually go to concerts very often. The only two major bands I’ve ever seen live are The Cure and a tag-team performance by Elton John and Billy Joel. (That last one I saw with my mother. It’s exactly the sort of show that you should see with your mother.) Music, more so than any other art form, is cool. There’s nothing sexier than strapping on an electric guitar and rocking out to a crowd of headbangers. Jazz is cool too, but in a more sophisticated way. I’ve had trouble getting into that genre, but another musician friend told me that I should try watching it instead of listening to it. There is something to a live performance that neither a movie nor a music video can capture. Watching people do things is an end unto itself.
One of the plays I saw recently was about a painter. In one scene, both characters painted an enormous canvas red. Think about that. They need a new canvas every night. And they have to time their painting to the record that plays during the scene. Eating is something that you don’t see actors do very often. It’s hard to eat and hold a conversation at the same time. In a movie, it’s difficult to maintain continuity during retakes, and actors can get sick if forced to eat the same thing over and over again. Also, whenever a character opens a present, they usually just lift the lid off a box because tearing open wrapping paper, again, makes retakes difficult. Acting is, in that way, economical. During the performance, nothing exists outside of the theater. If it’s really good, you might forget you’re watching it at all.
There are very few movies that are good enough that I forget I’m watching them. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is one. Few plays reach that level as well. But it’s quite a marvel when you happen upon a story that is so good that honestly can’t read/watch/listen to it slowly enough. The Battlestar Galactica reboot is like that, at least for the first season and a half. Currently, I’m reading Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin, and it’s as engrossing a tale as I’ve happened upon since I picked up, well, A Game of Thrones. As a writer, I tend to concern myself primarily with one question: What will happen next? The ending should never be predictable. But it always needs to make sense.
And since I don’t want to get too predictable, here’s a highly underrated performer making a complete ass of himself. And after that, just something for those of you who, like me, aren’t through hating hipsters.