Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Some Days Colors

Here is my thousand words for today.
(Yes that sentence is grammatically correct)
Appologies to those of you opposed to graphics as a substitute for writing. JS you know who you are.
As you were,
Jay
(The other)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Found it

This appeared. The text still lost.

Lost in Space

Danger, Will Robinson. But first....

I was looking for inspiration so I went to the CBTL. That is not always a solution to my writers block but they do have a great Ice Blended Mocha. That part of the trip was sure to be a success. 
However,  I did find something that peaked my memory.  It was a beautiful morning so I sat outside.  There is a carrousel in the middle of Encino Place and although I see it all the time, today it called out to me. I wrote my blog while deferring to the merry go round for support.
Right out of High School I was hired at a Theme Park. It was brand new, we were the first employees. I was there for the last few weeks of prep rehearsing before it opened. It is the closest I will come to being there for the set up of the carny. The name shall go un-mentioned since it is not necessary to the story.
A theme park is an awkward dance between architects and artists. It is not like any other retail space, it requires the eye of an artist as well as the engineer to create this "magic environment".  Sometimes the dancers step on each other's toes and this is a case in point.
One of the attractions at this Theme park was a beautiful Puppet theatre. It was proportioned to the size of the puppets which were probably half scale of humans, or about 3 feet high.  It was all set to go until they loaded in the show, that's when the roof collapsed. It seems the architects had figured the weigh bearing load on the roof at half the weight of a regular theatre based on the size of the puppets. Of course there is no such thing as puppet lights, or puppet speakers so the grid collapsed under the weight of actual lights and speakers. Strike one for the architects.
The park wanted a center piece carrousel..(finally we get to the spark for this blog... the Encino Place carrousel.)  The artists decided they should be the ones to design this attraction.  After all a carrousel is just a glitzy bunch of sculpted horses moving up and down on a large turn table. In this case the puppeteers conceived a "double decker" carrousel with all manner of sculpted beasts to ride on. And they were beautiful to look at.  On the top were fantasy creatures that any comic book geek would love, while the lower level was more kid friendly featuring more traditional mounts. From an artistic point of view, I don't know if there has ever been a carrousel that was so stunningly beautiful. There was only one problem to this artistic accomplishment.... it was too heavy to turn.  The artists had not considered the extra weight of their over conceived characters.  They were too heavy for the motor. This greatly hampered the enjoyment of the experience. It was ultimately reduced to a single story carrousel. Swing and a miss for the artists. 
This entire memory came back to me as I watched the Encino Place carrousel. It was a good blog to start the week. I even took a picture of the carrousel with my iPad and added it to the article. As I saved my finished assignment the wifi at CBTL decided to glitch. Gone... the picture the story and everything I had written for an hour...gone... did not save or upload... it was...
Lost in Space.  Of course I can never hear that phrase in my mind without also hearing...Danger Will Robinson. 

I think my original missive was better, more relevant to the moment and written more concisely, but that's what happens when there's no paper trail.

I had to come back  to my office at home to attempt to recreate the moment without the photo. You should have read the first draft...
As you were,
Jay


Monday, July 29, 2013

Always Something New

 The Grove was wonderful, inspiring, informative, and entertaining.  I wish I was not forbidden to write about it. If we find ourselves alone with a cocktail or two and the place is not too crowded remind me to tell you the stories of my week in the Redwoods. I had time on the retreat to contemplate my trip to Vent Haven and that I can write about. 
Andy Williams, Charlie McCarthy, Candice Bergen,
Edgar Bergen at Cesar's Palace Dressing room. 
In addition to discovering a picture of Johnny Carson, his kids and ventriloquist puppet, on the walls of the Vent Haven Museum, I found this one. Like most of the items at Vent Haven there is more to the story than meets the eye.  Most people may not know the full significance of this picture. It was also taken with my cell phone, and is a little blurry because you can't use flash inside the buildings.
Most of the time I have to get Tom Ladshaw, Lisa, Annie or Jen to give me the real significance of the things on exhibit at Vent Haven. Not this time.  When I asked about this picture they said, "Oh the one with Candice. " While that fact is is certainly true, there is more to the image than just a family photo.
As I looked more closely at the 70's clothes and the couch the group is sitting on, it became clear. I am fairly sure that is a couch in the green room back stage of Cesar's Palace in Las Vegas.  I have had the honor of being in that room many times. As I studied the photo more carefully with all the people involved, it hit me. 
Mr. Bergen had already announced his retirement in the summer of 1978, but Andy Williams asked if he would be the "Entr√© Act" of his Las Vegas show.  I wrote about this event in a blog when Andy passed way. (Andy Williams)
With common sense detective work given this particular group, the age of everyone and the location, this picture would have been taken no more than four days before Edgar Bergen's death.  It is probably the last picture of him ever taken. He died in his hotel room after the show at Cesar's Palace with Andy Williams on September 30, 1978.
I am hoping at next year's ConVENTion Lisa and Annie will give a talk about some of the other hidden stories at the Museum. A picture may be worth a thousand words but with the information those two have, the Vent Haven pictures can be worth many more. The value of history is in the current recollection. As practitioners in the Art of Ventriloquism we must learn that history and pass it along to the next seekers.
As you were,
Jay


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

ConVENTion Autopsy

Matthew Rolston's Photo
I often wonder what goes through the mind of the staff at the Airport Marriott in Cincinnati when the Vent Convention comes to town. Although the room count remains the same there are twice as many entities that populate the lobby and banquet rooms. The hotel goes from hosting high tech conferences to a group of performers talking to themselves. 
Besides the fun of hanging out with friends like Dale and Leslie Brown, Lisa Sweasy, Annie Roberts, Al Semock, Brook Brookings Sammy King, Pete Michaels, Tom Ladshaw and Lesley, Jimmy and Betty Nelson, Buddy BigMountain, Mark and Jody Wade, Tom Crowl, Lori Bruner, David Crone, Gary Owens,  Bob Baker, Mark Merchant and Ken and Ruby Groves.. (to name only a few) there were new friends and former acquaintances I got to connect with as well. And although they were pretty much swamped with autograph seekers I did get a chance to say a quick hello to Jeff Dunham and Terry Fator. 
Reluctantly I did not get a chance to connect with Taylor Mason. His show was definitely a highlight of my trip. I am a big fan of his work.
As always the thrill of visiting Vent Haven makes the trip for me. Lisa, Jen and Annie have turned a once dusty personal collection into a world class museum. These curator ladies always have some new fact about the collection and performers represented. This year a "never unwrapped.. never used Marshall figure has joined the collection.  That find is as rare as the Hope Diamond. 
It was a great pleasure to introduce Matthew Rolston at the convention.  I attended his book signing in Los Angeles some months ago where large prints of his "Talking Heads - the Vent Haven Portraits" book were on display.  The picture above does not do them justice but you can tell by the relationship to the photographer in silhouette how impressive the scale of the prints are.  It is shame that they were too large to bring to Cincinnati. It is also a shame that the price keeps me from having one of my own. 
Matthew has elevated the status of the Museum to the level of art that it deserves. His book and prints expose the legitimate Art world to the world of ventriloquism.  It is a status that I have spent a career waiting for. It makes me very proud to be associated with the collection even more.
On a personal note connecting with the Dean of American Ventriloquists Jimmy Nelson, a man I refer to as the Godfather of ventriloquism, is always special.  Betty Nelson has bestowed upon me one of the greatest honors I could receive.  She tells me that I am part of her family and refers to me as "Half-Nelson." Thank you Betty and Jimmy... you don't know how proud that makes me. 
I am off to another retreat this week.  I will be without radio, television, cell phone, computer, internet or even iPad for my stay. I am not allowed to talk much about this event, so even if I could blog about it... I would get in trouble. However, it will let me contemplate my Vent Haven experience without electronic interference. I am looking forward to that.
As you were,
Jay


Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Anniversary of my Birth..

At 4:30am on this day several decades ago, at the Methodist Hospital in Lubbock, Texas, Jay Kent Johnson was born. That baby later became someone I call "me". I don't remember much of that day except: I chose to be born at that hospital in that town so I could be close to my mother. (Place rim shot here)
It was a Monday morning.  For a Texas summer day it was not as hot as it could have been. Being born on July 11th makes my birthday lucky 7/11; and not only am I a moon child astrologically, there was a  full moon the night I was born. A double Moon Child/Cancer according to Nostrordamus.  My Father was a Navy Lieutenant and my mother a loving homemaker/bank teller/ librarian. Her incredible imagination influenced every moment of my growing up. 
I was an active child even at the moment of my birth. I never crawled before I walked at 8 months old.
Early in my life experts would suggest that not crawling could be a contributing factor in  my dyslexia and reading difficulty. Later experts suggested that my dyslexia could be a contributor to my abilities  in the art of ventriloquism. For whatever reasons leading me to this interesting life and career, I am grateful.
Growing up my Father continually repeated the comment made by Dr. Hand, the physician who delivered me. It was in a day when Fathers were not allowed into the delivery room.  Dr. Hand came to the waiting room and said to my Dad..."Well the kid is moving around so much we are not sure if it is a boy or a monkey."
I am certain that the repetition of this story over my life contributed to my fascination of monkeys and was probably the reason I would create Darwin later in my life.
At the age of five I hoisted my tricycle to the top of our garden shed and rode it off the edge. That was not my plan. My intent was to ride the tricycle around on the roof but I was too young to grasp the gravitational physics of the 30 degree slant of said roof.  The moment I got onto the tricycle,  I was committed to flying over the edge.
I had a moment of absolute euforia. Although I had not intended to ride my steed off the cliff. I had seen cowboys ride their horses off a cliff into rivers and lakes in western movies. Both horse and rider always survived and it seemed like fun. The realization there was no water below me became immediately apparent.
It was a WWII all aluminum tricycle that was light but extremely strong. Other than experiencing the shock of my young life, the tricycle landed hard on the front wheel with my feet firmly on the pedals. Neither of which were damaged; the back wheels fell into riding position and I rode away unscathed. My mother witnessed the Evil Kineval stunt from her kitchen window.
I have never been particularly upset by the number of birthday anniversaries I have had. Age is a state of mind and my mind is still going through puberty. It has always been my belief that we should live in an ageless society. Once you are 21 and can legally do anything that an adult can do there should be no other age requirements.  You should retire when you feel too old to continue your job not because you have reached some actuarial number. 
Insurance premiums should not be based on your age but your vitality; and job interviews should not be influenced by age but abilities. 
I currently know some people over 90 years old who are extremely vital and able. I also know some 55 year olds who can barely get around.  So.. what does age mean anyway?  Unless you know the person and who they are,  it is not a very good gage on quality of life. 
I feel thirty years old. There are very few things I would change in my life if I had a chance to redo them. I have had a great career, a great marriage, great family and the best friends a person could hope for.  I am truly blessed. So.. Happy Birthday to that guy I call "me".
As I am,
Jay 



Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Do not Touch...

As I was walking Boo today I noticed a tricked out pickup truck parked near our local park.  It obviously had never been used for construction. 
Displayed in the back window was a clear bumper sticker that said, 
"Do you believe in the here after? 
Dyslexic redneck's truck
Touch a cowboy's truck and find out."
Growing up in Texas I know the affection a redneck has for his truck. It was a sentiment that is more at home in the Lone Star State.
I got the implication, It was a warning for bystanders outside the truck to "leave it alone."
However, the owner had applied the clear bumper sticker to the inside of his rear window.
It read backwards from the outside of the cab and actually said...
" ?retfa ereh eht ni eveileb uoy oD. 
tuo dnif dna kcurt s'yobwoc a hcouT" 

I thought to myself... what a great looking truck except except for the bizarre signage on the back window.  
As you were,
Jay

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Life Imitates Animated Art


In a blog last week I talked about my obsession with early Warner Bros. Animation.
One of the Hollywood icons I learned about through WB cartoons was the Hollywood Bowl.  The Bowl was used many times as the back drop for a Bugs or Daffy Duck cartoon.  There are even cartoons of Bugs conducting an orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl.
It is only logical then that someone would find a way to make that cartoon phenomenon a reality.  Last night I was witness to it and for me it was thrilling.
The producers took all the old cartoons that featured the WB characters at the Hollywood Bowl and other classics like "The Rabbit of Seville" and "What's Opera Doc?" and performed them at the Bowl. The evening's program was entitled, "Bugs Bunny at the Symphony."
They stripped the music from the film and played it live on the jumbo screens.  It was amazing on many levels.  The obvious was just the richness of the LA Philharmonic playing live to the memories of my childhood.
But the best part.. there we were watching a cartoon of Bugs Bunny conducting an orchestra at the Bowl and we were at that very minute at the Hollywood Bowl.
As you can see from the pictures... it really is difficult to make out the details of the orchestra and conductor from most seats at the 20,000 seat amphitheater.   It was no different than if Bugs was actually conducting and we had to watch the screen to see him. (like we have done for every other performer we have seen at the Bowl.)
I remembered watching those cartoons as a kid in Texas.  Los Angeles, and the Hollywood Bowl seemed a million miles away from me.  I had no idea that decades later these icons would be part of my home town. To say I dreamed about it would not be accurate. These cartoons influenced me even before I was old enough to figure out I could dream of living in this world some day.
It was just surreal. Every time the Bowl would show up in a cartoon the audience would clap. And I had not considered the idea that 20,000 people would be reacting and laughing at Bug's antics along with me. Wow... for a cartoon freak, and after just having a day to record voices at the Warner Bros. Studio, it was the perfect evening for me.
At times like this I am reminded of a line from the movie "Broadcast News".  William Hurt asks Albert Brooks... "What do you do when your life exceeds your dreams?"  Brooks answered, "You keep it to yourself."
Good advice which I will now take to heart.
As you were,
Jay

Friday, July 05, 2013

The 5th of July

There has never been much discussion about the Founding Fathers attitude on July 5th.  I imagine that today back in 1776 a bunch of Patriots would be waking up to a new day with a huge Declaration hang over.  
After the signing of the Declaration of Independence they decide to go to Samuel Adams house and drink some of his now famous beer. One thing leads to another in the heat of that sweltering summer evening.  Benjamin Franklin started drinking heavily quoting some of the chestnuts he had written which were thrown out of the final draft. 
The Original Political "Party"
Thomas Jefferson had been burning the midnight oil for several nights before writing and re-writing the document. He was ready for some "me" time so he got into the Adams family rum. 
Caesar Rodney, the oldest member of the Congressional congress, was pissed that John Hancock took up so much room for his signature that the others had to cramp for space.  It didn't take many drinks for Caesar to start yelling at the others to get off his lawn.
William Hooper of North Carolina starting singing "Dixie" off key and he was quickly joined by Edward Rutledge of South Carolina.  The rest of the party goers finally asked them to shut up when they started to sing melancholy versions of Negro Spirituals. 
Finally Samuel Adams wife Elizabeth had enough and tells the whole bunch of them to go home.  Button Gwinnett of Georgia, known to be a mean drunk and says, "That is the very reason you women were not allowed to participate in the Declaration. You females are a bunch of political party poopers." 
Benjamin Franklin grabs John Adams by the shoulders and slurs the words, "I love thee, Man."  
After some stumbling and posturing the group finally leaves the Adams house.  Elizabeth looks at John and says something like, "If you ever declare independence again, I will take the kids and move to Washington, DC to get totally away from politics." 
Sometime around noon on July 5th John Hancock awakes with a splitting headache and a mouth that is dry as  British humor. To his surprise Ben Franklin is sleeping on his couch curled up with an empty bottle of Irish Whiskey. John wakes Ben.  Franklin has no idea where he is or where he left his horse. Hancock says, "Wow, what a night, what a party. You know Ben, I had this stupid dream that we pissed off England with some sort of document."
Ben replies, "That was no dream, Pal. We did it. It was some paper that Jefferson wrote... kind of wordy but it basically said for King George to fuck off." 
Hancock laughs but it hurts his head too much.  He comes to his senses and says, "Wow... I sure hope King George doesn't find out who did it."
"Are you kidding.... we all signed it.  In fact you took up half the page with our scrawl."
"Shit, Ben why didn't some one stop us?"
"Adams said we were signing the invoice for the Congressional Congress catering bill. He didn't want to be the only one responsible for the Squeek and Bubble that Robert Treat Paine ordered for breakfast". 
"Damn... now we've done it. Is it too late for Jefferson to soften it up a little before King George can read it."
"It's too late now, John. I suggest we go over to the pub and have a little of the hair of the dog and wait for a bunch of guys in red coats to arrive."
"I guess.  Boy I wish Aspirin had already been invented."

Happy 5th of July,
As you were, 
Jay



Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Tweet This

There are some guys who excel at one liners.  Steven Wright and Eddie Izzard to name a few. They seem to be able to condense their humor down to 144 characters. This makes for great tweets from them. 
 I can't seem to do that.  I feel like I'm in a box when I start to tweet.  It just takes me longer to say the same thing. For me it is the equivalent of trying to write Moby Dick using only 12 out or the 26 letters of the alphabet. 
With that in mind, I was struck with a thought today that is not so complicated that I could not express it in a tweet.  However, the explanation of why I am not writing it as a tweet has now taken me more to express than the allotted characters.  Nonetheless here goes:
Last night about 4:30 am I got up to go into the kitchen for a glass of water.  The house was dark except for a light on the fridge. It is not very bright but in the darkness it was a beacon. 
I got my water and headed back to the bedroom.  My eyes became accustomed to the small kitchen light so that I was not adjusted to the darkness walking back.  I bumped into a chair, spilled a little water on myself when I brushed the wall, and generally had to very carefully navigate my way back.  It seemed so much easier going to the kitchen than returning from it, and not because I was carrying a glass of water. 
Lying back in bed I started to think about what had just happened.  The word "enlightenment" came to me.  It seems that I had just experienced a metaphor for enlightenment.  Walking toward the light was a snap... walking away from the light was not.  To make our way easier we need to always be walking toward the light.
I suppose one can symbolize the light in any way you want to.  It could be a professional goal, or a spiritual awakening you are walking toward.  Either way, if it is defined well enough or illuminated to even a small degree your steps will be easier.
Find a goal, define it and make it shine in your consciousness. Once you see it clearly in your mind proceed in that direction.  The light of the goal will show you the way. If you reach that goal illuminate another one and head in that direction.  If you start running into obstacles try to see the light of your goal more clearly just to make sure you are walking in the right direction. Trying to walk in the light.. that is the meaning I get from enlightenment.
Tweet over and over tweeted.
As you were,
Jay  

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Vent Shtick

For us gentile types the English word stick and the Yiddish word shtick sound very much alike. One letter different.
For us dyslexic types the spelling could be anything to make that sound.
Being a gentile dyslexic you can understand how excited I was to find this product on the shelf.
I grabbed for it hoping that the shtick would be something I could use as some sort of gag during my act on stage. The fact that I was at the car wash when I discovered this gem of variety performing did not enter into the thought at first.
Upon further reading I realized my misapprehension. It is after all a vent stick not vent shtick. It could be applicable to my act only if the shtick I did at the show stunk up the joint so bad that it affected the drive home. This stick could help with the residual odiousness of the performance in only the most visceral way.  It is no more than an auto deodorant.
I guess that there are some who believe when I say I am a working vent I mean I have some connection with air conditioning and heating. Obviously to me the word has a different connotation.
I think I was about 11 years old when I met a ventriloquist in Lubbock, Texas.  When I explained that I did an act too, the guy said, "Are you a vent?"
Confused at first I quickly caught on that it was a nickname for ventriloquist.  It makes sense since that is such a hard word to say and spell.  From that moment on the word vent never had the same meaning for me.  The man's name was Ted Knight who later would become mega famous as Ted Baxter on the "Mary Tyler Moore Show". From that moment on his name would never mean the same thing.
Everything reminds me of something now a days.  They say that is a sign of getting older.  I say it is a sign of being more educated.
As you were,
Jay