Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Does "America Got Talent'?

"Their takin' our jobs."
I thought it was satire when I heard that British Ventriloquist Paul Zerdin won "America's Got Talent".  Isn't there a "Britain's Got Talent" Show? Why didn't he try out for that one?  I thought this was a competition like the Olympics, you have to be American to compete for America's Got Talent. If you win the American Contest then you get to compete in the "World's Got Talent", the winner of that gets to represent the World in the "Universe's Got Talent". That's when the competitions gets really tough. At the "Universe's Got Talent" one has to compete against Arrillian Gorp Jugglers and the best Ear Whistlers from the Nebulon system. 

If anyone can enter any of the "Got Talent" franchises in the world, why aren't we all trying to win "Romainia's Got Talent" or "Slabovia's Got Talent".  I'm saying, crossing borders to win talent contests causes all kinds of problems.  Where are the Trump supporters using Paul Zerdin as an example of immigration out of control. 

Trump: "These Brits are coming over her, they're thieves, they're drug smugglers, ventriloquists. And I assume some are good people." 

 Is it time to scream, "They're taking our jobs... and stealing our puppets." 

Full Disclosure. I rarely watch America's Got Talent, and I  don't know Paul Zerdin.  From what little I have seen of his act on Youtube Paul seems to have great technique and good stage presence. I do, however, know Ronn Lucas and David Straussman very well, they also have great technique and great stage presence. All three now seem to be involved in a controversy over intellectual property, original ideas, and the difference between instruments and art. 

I do not always agree with the "ventriloqual trickle down theory." That is the idea that what is good for one ventriloquist at the top is good for all the others down line.  It doesn't work in economics, why would it work with variety arts?  In this case,  is winning a talent contest so important for all other ventriloquists that we will look the other way when we know some winning bits were  lifted from someone else's act?  We'll get back to that.

Think of it this way. Ventriloquism is like music. The puppet (mask, electronic, soft puppet, knee figure) is like the instrument.  The act that a ventriloquist does with this puppet instrument could be equated to music.  Any one can play the piano if they want to. No one owns the rights to piano playing. You practice and get good enough and you can become a great pianist.  You might even become good enough to play like Dave Brubeck (look him up if you're not sure).  You might develop a style that audience members hail as the next "Dave Brubeck like" sound.  Everything is kosher until you play, "Take Five" and claim credit for writing it.  Then you have crossed over from being a musician to being a plagiarist.  Other musicians would not let that claim go unchallenged.  

David Strausman may not have exclusive claim to the "instrument" of a mechanical remotely controlled puppet. Ronn may not have exclusive claim to the "instrument" of a moving vent mask, (although he makes the legal claim he does.) These things are instruments and are like saxophones for sale to anyone who wants to lean how to play them.  What seems to be the issue at hand now is did Paul Zerdin use these instruments to play songs written by David and Ronn? That would cross the line of intellectual property, courtesy and integrity. 

It does not matter if some piano player says he has been playing "Take Five" since 1997 when he saw a piano for sale at a pianist convention. "Take Five" was composed in 1959.  End of story, end of claim.  It belongs to someone else, write your own song. 

We are back to trickle down ventriloquism.  If it is so important to have ventriloquism win for the benefit of all ventriloquists that we turn a blind eye to the original "song" writers: that becomes its own reward.  But it's a slippery slope. Ventriloquists will be encouraged to watch others and instead of saying, "Wow, I wish I had thought of that... it's brilliant", they will be saying "Wow, I can use that in my act."  That is not trickle down that is poisoning the well. 

I'm not stirring the pot or trying to take sides. I'm just pointing out the truth. In life you have to  "do your own work".  Whatever grade you get in life's exam, make sure it is your work.  That is the definition of originality and the soul of a musician, artist, dancer and ventriloquist.
As you were,

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The GOP Debate

Not going to watch tonight. However, knowing the candidate that is leading I know how part of it will go.

CNN Reporter: This one is for you Mr. Trump.

Trump: I am going to make America Great again. I will be the best jobs president this country has ever seen. Because I think the country is being run by crazy people. And look, I don't need to be....

CNN Reporter:  Mr. Trump. I haven't ask the question yet.

Trump:  I'm sorry I thought you said Kurds.  I was referring to her persona.

CNN Reporter: So here is the question Mr. Trump.

Trump: I will build a wall on the border, make Mexico pay for it.  Maybe even make China pay for it.

CNN Reporter: Well that wasn't close to the question I was going to ask but,  why would China pay for a wall across our borders?

Trump: China is beating us on trade, they are taking our jobs, they speak a very funny language no one can understand. I am very good with China. I will negotiate a deal that will make this country great again. You'll see.

CNN Reporter: Mr. Trump can we get to the question.

Trump: I will make sure that every veteran has the best possible health care.  I love the vets. They love me.

CNN Reporter: The question is this, although you are leading in the polls some people think, even some standing on the podium here tonight, that you are not qualified.

Trump: Not true I have some great qualities. I never...

CNN Reporter: That's not the question.

Trump: Folks, I'm not going anywhere.

CNN Reporter: Here is my question, sir. High ranking members of the GOP think your popularity is based on potential voters who are either ignorant or apathetic. How would you answer those charges?

Trump: Ignorant or apathetic? I don't know and I don't care.

As you were,

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

You Follow Opera?

The Muse. It is like when a friend comes to visit for a while. When the guest arrives everything else stops and all attention is paid to the visitor.  One does things the friend wants to do, even if you were not planning on that activity. That is the way we entertain the Muse.
Right now it is the Muse of writing which has come to visit. She has completely taken over and there has been no activity in my life for the last three days but writing.  I can't tell if it is the project or the process that has me hypnotized because the result is the same, an obsession to keep writing. Even when I have hit a wall in the story twist of my project, I still have to write. So, this blog becomes the vamp until I can get clear on how to proceed with the other writing.

Some time ago I was at a dinner party. I love dinner parties. Parties where friends get together for a meal, conversation, stories and laughter. This party was ebb and flow of several conversations going on at once when anyone could jump in and add commentary to the various subjects being discussed.
I remember telling a story about the Horn in Santa Monica.  It is a club where I worked when I moved to LA.  It was mainly a singers room, but they had two comics a night. I was one of them for a while.  The story involved the struggle to follow a singer on stage who had just finished a set of depressing, heart wrenching music leaving the audience suicidal.  And now the comedy of... Jay Johnson.  Brutal, but you learn quickly.
Seemingly out of the blue the man sitting next to me said, "Have you seen the latest version of Pelleas and Melisande?" When I said no, he launched into a review of a production he saw. He mentioned that the director had also done a production of the Marriage of Figaro, and asked if I liked his work, I was stumped.  He might as well have been speaking foreign language. Then he started naming people I found out later were up and coming Opera stars.  This man was passionate about his Opera and continued to pepper questions at me designed to solicit my knowledge or interest in Opera. Finally the hostess heard him say to me, "I thought you said a minute ago you followed Opera?" I briefly tried to recall the conversations up to that point but did not remember ever saying that I knew or even liked Opera. The hostess jumped into our conversation and in one sentence recognized the problem and source of the confusion.  She said,
"CB, Jay did not say he followed Opera.  He said at the Horn he had to 'Follow Opera.. SINGERS'."
As you were,

Friday, September 11, 2015

Remembering again... and again.

In the 14 years since 9/11 I have watched both my sons graduate from College, was joyful when Sandi got hired on a television show that is now premiering its 9th season in a couple of weeks; I won a Tony for a one man show I wrote and performed on Broadway. Somewhere along the way I started writing this blog. 

9/11/01 seems so long ago, until I start to recall that specific day in my life. It then becomes altogether too fresh like it only happened months ago.  In this time of memorial to all that did not see 9/12/01, I reprint what I have written before.  During this unpleasant anniversary, I find it easier to cut and paste the past rather than relive it to write about it. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

So much has happened since then.  So much has changed... but my raw emotions never seem to change.  Here is the way I will always remember it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11 Remembered...

Reprints from the past:

Those of us who did live past this day in 2001 we will never forget those who didn't.  They were all of us.  There were no blogs, no tweets, no texts, no smart phones connected to social media back then,  but it was seared into my consciousness nonetheless. It was seven years before I thought I could write about it here.

Written on: 
Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. No one of this generation will forget where they were when they heard the news about a plane hitting the World Trade Center that morning. Most of us were watching CNN by the time the second plane hit. I was in Boston, which immediately became part of the crime scene.

I was performing for an Insurance company. A week earlier they called and asked if I could move my performance/presentation to Tuesday morning instead of Monday afternoon. They had a scheduling problem and that would help. I had no problem with coming in and leaving a day later. I didn't think much about it until after the events of 9/11. My manager at the time just switched my flights around and adjusted everything by 24 hours. That change in schedule saved my life.

My traveling MO is to catch the first nonstop home to Los Angeles the morning after my performance. In most major cities American Airlines is my carrier of choice. I am a two and and a half million mile American Airlines AAvantage member and in 2001 had Executive Platinum status. It was of no help when all air travel stopped for a week after the towers fell.

Until the company delayed my performance by 24 hours I was booked on the first non stop home after my Monday afternoon show. I was booked in seat 4E non stop from Boston to Los Angeles, Tuesday, September 11, 2001, American Airlines #11. I remember at the time thinking that flight #11 on the 11th of the month seemed lucky. That plane hit the north Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45 am. Because the show date changed I wasn't on that plane. I was waiting to go on stage.

Even with that graphic life changing example, I sometimes forget that everything happens for a reason. One small decision is sometimes the one that changes your life. Only with perspective do we understand it as either good or bad, and ultimately even good and bad are human judgments.

It would seem natural to thank God for saving my life, but doesn't that make him responsible for the 3000 souls he didn't save that day? There were people on flight #11 much more "deserving" to live than me, or at the least equally deserving. They prayed for protection and deliverance that morning.

I would have been sitting on the plane next to David Angel who was the very talented writer/creator of the television show "Frazier" had my show date remained as contracted. He was deserving to have another day in his life, but he rode the plane into the tower. Who did God love more, me or him? It is a stupid question.

That event does not define me. I do not count the days since I was saved. I have not used it as a testimony in Church. I don't think I was given a celestial "do over". I rarely even remember it unless prompted by some event. All I know is I am here to write briefly about it and David Angel is not. I wrestle with the name Angel trying to make it some sort of metaphor. It is as fruitless as thinking flight #11 on the 11th was lucky. It was what it was. Those who have moved on are not looking back, but here's to all of us who are left behind to try and figure it out.

We will never quite be as we were,

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Church or State?

Kentucky Kim the Conservative Christian County Clerk - sounds like a cartoon character. In reality there is nothing funny in the way Kim Davis is conducting government for Rowan County Kentucky.

If you have been in an isolation chamber since June you might not know who Ms. Davis is. As the elected clerk of Rowan County Kentucky it is her $80,000 a year job to issue licenses, collect fines and court ordered fees. She is responsible for enforcing and overseeing misdemeanor cases in the county.  Her job is making sure the law of the county is carried out.  

Since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of granting same sex marriage in June, Ms. Davis has refused to issue ANY Marriage license, to anyone wishing to be married in her County. Although her job is to carry out the law, She is refusing to obey this particular law.  Her reasoning? She is obeying God's law. 

Kim Davis should be the poster girl for the Separation of Church and State.  The situation in Kentucky is created when zealots in power try to blur the line between church and state. America is founded on the idea that the will of the people trumps any Religious authority.  It was Liberty and Freedom from the authority of Religion that lead us to settle this country.  Religious rule in Europe was a failure, so we chose to be a country of law not mythology.
There is no attack on Religion in America.  The attack is coming from Christian zealots trying to dismantle the separation of Church and State in America. It is the same battle in the middle east, Isis is not a political ideology of laws.  Isis is not a rule by the people, but it is rule by Religion.  It is a draconian way to govern and its failure is guaranteed.

Tomorrow... (Thursday) Kim Davis and the other clerks, some of them related to her, will appear before a Judge.  We will find out what laws that Judge has chosen to obey.  Being an unauthorized friend of the Court, I submit this brief in letter form for the record,  if anyone chooses to read it at the hearing.

Open Letter to:

Rowan County Clerk

Kim Davis

West Main Street Room 102
Morehead, KY 40351

You Go, Ms Davis:

You go and practice your piety without impunity from anyone. This is America... you can do that. The laws of the land guarantee that you will be free to follow whatever rules your God demands. Because we have a right to freedom of religion in this country you are well within in your rights to believe whatever you wish. No court, no government, no Governor nor group can tell you what to believe nor keep you from your own belief. You are free to worship and believe anyway you wish.

However, If your job as an elected County Clerk is conflicting with your religion you have two choices.  

1) Do the job you were elected to do and find a way to make it work with your faith, or  
2) Quit the job as County Clerk  and become secretary at your Church.  You can not have it both ways.  You can not keep a job that administers the law then decide which laws you will obey or enforce.  In your own words you say you will not resign, and will not issue any marriage license. Sorry, Lady you have to choose.  The court says it is time you decide. 

As for me, I have decided paying Income taxes to the United States government is against my religious values. God said very clearly, "Do Not Kill".  It is a big Christian NO NO.  Bigger than this same sex marriage thing, which didn't even make God's list of  Top Ten "Thou shalt nots".
The United States chooses to send thousands of soldiers around the world to kill and be killed with the money I have sent to the government.  God will punish me if I am implicated in the act of killing. So assuming your interpretation of theology, County Clerk Kim Davis... I don't have to pay my income tax, right?
The offense rests.

As you were,

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Brookledge.. Performing Arts

©2015 - Jay Johnson- Jaysons Imagination
I performed at Brookledge last Saturday night.  I have written about the phenomenon known as the Brookledge Follies  several times before.  To those who know what Brookledge is, no explanation is needed.  To those who don't know... it is an amazing story.

You can CLICK HERE   and  HERE  to read a couple of the essays on this subject from over the years at this URL.

The performing experience is unique as is the legend of the Brookledge private theatre in Hancock Park.  The green room is really green. It is a patio table under the massive trees beside a brook that runs through the back yard and under the theatre.  When it is your turn to perform you take the stairs up to the stage door which puts you in wings stage right.
Part of the magic of the evening is the crowd that attends a Brookledge Follies Show.  Invited guests and fellow performers come to see a show that can't be seen anywhere else.  I have met some of my all time hero performers there.  You never know who might be in the audience. In the early days of Brookledge Orson Wells would have been sitting on the couch in the back. It is still referred to as the Wells couch.
©2013 - Jay Johnson- Jaysons Imagination

This time rather than write it myself, I think I will let a professional observer do that job.  Bernie Shine, who writes for the Huffington Post, was there on Saturday.  For full discloser Bernie, the Writer, Lawyer and Magician is also a friend.  He knows more about the house, the theater and magic history than I do so his article is most informative.  Here is a link to that:

The Huff Post - Bernie Shine

Thanks Bernie.
As you were,