Saturday, April 18, 2009

What Is Your Good Name Worth?

Recently, I was reading through the online news, and a story caught my eye.

Woody Allen is suing American Apparel for $10 million, saying they used his image in advertising without his permission. Mr. Allen, who does not do any sort of product endorsement in the U.S., claims that the unauthorized use of his image damaged his "good name."

American Apparel has decided to fight the suit, using some very interesting, even novel arguments:

1. The billboards were up and down in less than a week in only a couple of locations (New York and L.A.) so $10 million is excessive, and...

2. It is impossible for anything American Apparel did cause Mr. Allen's name/character to be defamed, because Mr. Allen defamed his own name/character so much that further defamation is simply impossible.

My first thought: Huh?

Remember back in the early '90's, when Woody Allen cheated on his long-time girlfriend/mother of his child Mia Farrow with Ms. Farrow's adopted daughter, Soon Yi Previn? Who was still in her teens at the time?

Then, remember the custody fight over Farrow and Allen's child? When Farrow accused Allen of molesting the kids? And Allen denied it, but the judge granted Farrow full custody? Then Allen married Soon Yi?

That's what American Apparel is referring to: they're saying Allen's reputation has been worthless since that time, so nothing anyone could do could diminish it any further.

To bolster this argument, American Apparel has subpoenaed tons of documents from the Allen/Farrow custody battle and plans to call witnesses to discuss the early relationship between Previn and Allen.

My second reaction: clever, but sleazy.

If repeated viewings of legal shows (Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, The Practice, Law & Order: Traffic Court, Boston Legal, Law & Order: Mobile K-9 DARE Unit, The Soup) have taught me anything, it is this: clever and smarmy never win. I think American Apparel has overplayed its hand here.

I think Woody Allen is a talented filmmaker whose personal life certainly would have trouble being judged under scrutiny. I think Allen ought to fight it this way: they didn't use an image of him from his personal life, they used an image of him from the movie Annie Hall, in which he was dressed as a Rabbi. While his personal reputation may indeed be quite low with many of us, his professional reputation is still strong and respected, and by using an image of him from his films, they were obviously banking on his professional reputation, not his personal one. But I'm not a lawyer, so what do I know?

This American Apparel thing also scares me because of possible precedent:

Deb: Your honor, while I enjoy the chocolate, cream-filled goodness of Mostest's Hoo-Ha's, I clearly didn't give the company permission to put my picture on the box with the caption "Mrs. Hoo-Ha." I feel this disparages my character and intelligence.

Smarmy Attorney: Your honor, I have here photographic evidence that this woman, on several occasions, dressed as a duck and threw candy at children. Voluntarily. How could anything we do make her appear any more stupid than she already did?

Judge: Really? A duck?

Deb: (whispering) It was a gander.

Judge: Case dismissed.

So we need to keep this in mind. Who knows where this could lead? Imagine the world if just anyone could use anyone's name or image for free to promote anything? We might have Ryan Seacrest on the bottle of Gold Bond Medicated Powder, or Paris Hilton on the boxes of various hygiene/contraceptive products.

Or some bad ones might happen, too.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Confessions Of A Musical Theater Snob

I have another confession: I am a total musical theater snob.

If I had to pinpoint a beginning, I would have to go back to early childhood. By the time I started kindergarten, I knew the score and most of the choreography to Oklahoma, Fiddler on the Roof, Funny Girl, Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, and, of course, Sound of Music. All of these well beloved, very mainstream shows were wonderful to me. I had the movie versions literally memorized.

The highlight of this phase of my life was my senior year in high school, when I played Laurey in our school production of Oklahoma. Though my acting skills weren't on par with Olivier, or even the more talented Monkees, or even literal monkeys, I sang pretty well and was relatively famous in our town for a couple of years.

"I know you," the grocery store checkers would say, squinting at me.

"You do?" I would respond.

"Yeah. You're that girl. The one who sings. Huh."

Fame is a cruel mistress, but it is sometimes the price we pay.

All of this was fine. Loving musicals, after all, doesn't make one a snob, right? No, it's loving obscure musicals no one has ever made a movie of that makes you a snob. Loving musicals you've never technically seen makes you a snob. By the time I was 30, I was a bona fide musical theater snob.

It began when PBS broadcast a documentary called "Broadway : The American Musical," hosted by Julie Andrews. This 6-part series, available on DVD, traces the history of Broadway and the musical from the late 1800's to the opening of Wicked in 2004. By the time I finished watching this series, I was hooked. I bought books, CD's, and DVD's of all of these amazing shows. I learned the songs and performed them, if it was at all appropriate. Though my senior recital the year before contained a set of Sondheim songs, I now sought out original recordings of Pacific Overtures and Sunday in the Park With George. I developed a distaste for even hearing the name Andrew Lloyd Webber. I had to be physically restrained when I heard the following sentence:

"You know what musical I like? Cats. I like it when I don't have to think too hard."

The test, though, for the musical theater snob is when a musical comes along that is both cutting-edge and popular. Which side to take? This was the situation for me with the musical Rent.

Pro: It was very innovative, incorporating musical styles and theatrical conventions not seen before.

Con: The music was definitely pop.

Pro: It was political and relevant, embracing controversial topics.

Con: It was really popular, even getting on the cover of major magazines like Newsweek.

Pro: It featured a cast of edgy young unknowns, like Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Taye Diggs, and Jesse L. Martin.

Con: The theme song was recorded by Stevie Wonder and marketed as a pop single.

And on, and on it went. For years I just avoided it, refusing to listen to it, considering myself above the controversy.

And then.

I actually listened to some of the music. And loved it. Then the movie came out, and I loved it. I especially loved how they got so many from the original cast to come and pretend they were 10 years younger. It is now one of my favorites.


Ahem. I'll make sure to post after I see the show, but I have to say I'm looking forward to this very much. If at all possible, I'll get a picture of Adam or Anthony to post. If not, I'll get a picture of me looking at them, which is just as good, right?

Life is good.

Why I Do It

In the spring of 2002, I was hired to play piano for a voice studio recital. The students were all high-school age. I remember very well the first time I met Josmery, a slender, almost gawky girl of 15 with curly black hair and liquid black eyes. Josmery was a freshman that year, 14 or 15, singing in her first recital.

Josmery's song that day was "I Love All Graceful Things." Not one of my favorites, but a sweet song that showed off her beautiful high notes. Practices went well; Josmery was prepared and professional throughout.

At the performance, Josmery forgot the words to her song. I assure you, this happens to singers very often, and it is always unsettling. Josmery didn't miss a beat, however, and continued to sing, making up words that not only fit in with the rest of the song, but that rhymed. Even her teacher didn't know she messed up, but I saw it all. I thought to myself, "This kid has got it. She's the real thing."

In 2003, after graduating college, I was hired to be the assistant choir director at the high school Josmery attended. I taught her junior and senior year, and got to know her fairly well. She made the All-State choir both years, ranking first in the area her senior year. I helped her with that audition. I really thought that was as good as it got.

I'm writing this at 11:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 16. I just got home from Josmery's senior recital for her Bachelor's degree in Vocal Performance. I have never, in my entire life, been so moved by a performance as I was tonight. That gawky 15-year-old I remember is now a poised young woman with an amazing instrument God placed right in her body. Sitting there, next to her former teacher and current teacher, taking my place among the many who have helped and influenced her over the years, was the most amazing feeling.

Though tonight's event was not religious in nature, I felt the spirit of God in that room. After the recital, when I waited my turn to tell her how proud I was, her face lit up as she embraced me, as sweet and unselfconscious as she ever was.

All the gripes, all of the complaints about being a teacher, I take them all back tonight. Tomorrow I may go back to complaining, but tonight, I'm so glad I chose this life.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hecklefest 2009

I just gave myself the best gift any heckler can give herself.

A DVD set of the 1991 revival of "Dark Shadows," the only show to ever jump the shark during the opening credits.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Dark Shadows franchise, it began as a daytime soap opera in the 1700's, and was then revived as a prime-time soap opera in 1991. The cast is a veritable Who's Whom? of acting: Ben Cross, Michael Weiss, Adrian Paul, and the formidable Jean Simmons, who takes bewilderment to a level so committed, it is almost ethereal.

As a young teenager when this show aired originally, I was of course too young and immature to fully appreciate it. I loved this show when it first aired. We taped every episode and, when the show was cancelled after only twelve episodes (thanks, Gulf War!) we watched it again, and again. By "we" I of course mean my sister and myself. My mother never would have indulged in such shlocky, tasteless fare.

I am, of course, kidding. My mom is the queen of shlocky tasteless fare. The only thing she knows better than the Scriptures is 1950's Science Fiction B-movies, preferably the ones where you can actually see the crew members hoisting the alien spaceships on hempen ropes.

But, I digest. Loving the show Dark Shadows as I did then, I failed to see the amazing level of humor so present for me in the show now. It has become a new experience.

The way the psychic indicates that she is using her powers by bugging out her eyes, for example:

Maggie: {Eyes half-closed} I don't know what's going on in this town...but I'll tell you this: {Eyes POP open, as though she's just noticed a large tarantula in the corner of the room} the evil has just begun!

Of course, my pitiful blog cannot convey to you the sheer magic of the magnificent Ben Cross wailing in pain after he attacks his cousin/descendent Caroline because he aged 200 years in an hour because the doctor who was treating him for the malignant vampire cell got jealous that he was really in love with the reincarnation of his former fiancee and gave him a bogus injection. Whatever else this show has, the writing is awe-inspiring.

So, to truly share in the magic of heckling this masterpiece, I'm declaring my intention to establish Hecklefest, a yearly event in which priveleged few will spend a day with me and heckle. This year's theme: Gothic Romance. We will begin the day with a viewing of Twilight. (Selected scenes will be played with the commentary track, so Rob can heckle with us.) From there, we will watch the first six episodes of Dark Shadows. Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca will follow to cleanse the palate, a visual sorbet, if you will. (Rebecca very much fits in with this theme, both in overall tone and eye-bugging.) The final six episodes of Dark Shadows will round out the evening.

I expect those attending to treat Hecklefest as audiences at Bayreuth treated performances of The Ring Cycle: total committment to the event. Bathroom breaks will be tolerated. Snacks will be provided.

It sounds like heaven to me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Fan Letter

Recently, I was honored to receive my first fan letter.

Okay, it wasn't technically a "letter." It was an e-mail. Secondly, it was from someone who, as far as I am aware, I don't personally know, either in real life or online. This was very exciting.

My fan's name is Kerri. Hi, Kerri. Thanks so much for the letter!

The first paragraph of the letter was very complimentary. She referenced specific posts and used words like "brilliant" and "classic." I reread this paragraph many times.

The letter continued to mention that my fan works at a parenting website, and she wanted to share some links with me. She said, "If you happen to mention them on your blog, I wouldn't mind." Some of you may be thinking, "Deb, this isn't a fan. This is someone trying to get free advertising." I thought the same thing, but consider the evidence:

1. She says, in the letter that she's not looking for free advertising. What further proof do you need?

2. I don't care.

Really, I don't care if she wrote me a letter to get me to post links to the website she works for. She likes my blog, or at least read it enough to know the titles of some of my archived posts. It's satisfying enough for me to imagine that there are Folksy Musin's fans all over the land, doin' the best they can, to try and make a stand. My imagination often sounds like a Bon Jovi-esque power anthem.

The real question for me, though, was, should I post the links? Am I someone who can be bought so easily?

Yes. Here they are, and I can tell you this is a charming website for anyone with kids, or anyone who is expecting, or anyone who just likes to look at pictures of adorable babies. Enjoy.