Category Archives: performance

public presentation; art, music, dance, drama;

Living The True Story.

A guitar player I know just posted a summary of his life, on social media.

Guitar players being legion on this planet, many of us tend to pigeonhole these ubiquitous musicians. We not so subconsciously sort them into: 1.) Great! 2.) Solid. 3.) …not so hot. And, then we go about our lives.

This man, however, was a breed apart. He’d done what our generation would have called “everything”. His fingers traveling so far beyond the frets had been in so many pies, professions, callings. And, because we all KNEW him, we also accepted his life accomplishments as valid. True. No question. They all really happened.

Now, why would we not challenge his veracity?

“We” are the generation that birthed the music of the ’70’s. The last intimate ballad. The recording that just was – no gimmicks; no video enhancements; no synthetic percussion; no studio production. And, we couldn’t have known how important this would become, to that fading value: history.

Oprah Winfrey recently spoke, at a Tennessee commencement*. Her topic? The Impostor Syndrome. By now, we all know its definition: “Fake it ’til you make it.”

And, what has this errant directive birthed?

George Santos.

Liar, extraordinaire. Now, facing the music of his masquerade.

Time was, if you did it, you could prove it; if you didn’t, no way could you find acceptance among the self respecting.

“We” aren’t sure who came up with the outlandish idea that faking anything in order to reach status of any worth was the way to go. One thing is certain: the service industry, just to name one, is rife with its following; how many phone calls to customer support yield “I’m sorry for the inconvenience” and “let me put you on hold”? Too many.

Entire enterprises are populated by the oblivious, whose only observable skills include Googling Wikipedia, submitting a screen grabbed report, taking a long lunch, and leaving early. Gone is what used to be called “toil.” Sweat, and blood. Feeling that good kind of tired, at the end of a highly productive day.

On the other hand, jumping on the treadmill of the masses, striving to achieve, hoping somebody notices – that led our generation to the Land of Diminishing Returns. A life really well lived used to be its own reward; now, we lean back in our proverbial rockers and watch the vastly under-experienced sail past us, some of them actually flying, never breaking basal body temp, and swinging from one brass ring to the next like a cage full of monkeys.

Enter the devices of man, as catalyst. Robotics; artificial intelligence; pre-programmed machines, replacing live workers. Perhaps the current generation in charge feels obliteration nipping at its heels; maybe the going motivation is just getting through the day without losing grip on the ledge.

Yet, the glimmer of hope pulsates. Vinyl records are back. Being able to touch something made by another human, without threat of its virtual presence vaporizing in the next second….

In our collective gut, we sense that returning to authenticity is our only survival. Living the true story – the only path which will lead us away from extinction.

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*I didn’t listen to the entire speech; any thoughts verbalized in this piece which resemble statements she made therein are entirely coincidental (or, channeled?).

Copyright 5/12/2023 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is(inspired by guitarist et al, Joseph Popp) and whose name really does appear above this line. No copying – in part; whole; or, by translation – permitted; sharing by blog link, exclusively. Thank you for being real.

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Junior League.

Mum was a seamstress, a dressmaker, a tailor of the finest order. She could take any off the rack dress, jacket, pant, gown and make it fit any body assigned. She could make three piece fully lined suits from Vogue patterns, ball and wedding gowns, even curtains and upholstery covers. And, she did all this, from her sewing room at home.

While I was growing up, Mum would often ask me to go to the piano and perform for her customers. I would comply, choosing the flashiest solo piece I’d most recently prepared. All the ladies would rave, and compliment Mum on her daughter’s talent .

Marlene was among the most vociferous.

Her family lived a couple blocks down the steep hill, on East 28th Street, in a brick house with a porch. Marlene and her mother, Emma, were very close, coming to the house biweekly for their fittings. Most of Mum’s customers were from the same extended family of second generation Italian-American ladies, working clerically or teaching but, during my high school years, Marlene grew to become a business administrator, community leaders increasingly recognizing her efforts and accomplishments. All the while Mum dressed her, impeccably, Emma duly proud.

Perhaps a gesture intended to give back to Mum, after the decades she’d spent keeping Marlene looking sharp, whatever the motive the day came when, out of nowhere, Marlene declared her intention to sponsor Betty’s daughter to the Junior League of Erie.

Founded in New York in 1901, the Junior League was formed to instill social responsibility and a spirit of volunteerism among community women. Over the years, however, the charitable organization had become a vehicle for debutantes, a class marker for the up and coming young. Being sponsored to join the League was an honor with huge implications for future social and professional connections, not the least of these eligible men of the same rank and level of social recognition.

The act generated by Marlene was directed as a gesture toward her treasured seamstress. In the spirit of the relationship between Marlene and her own mother I was to accept the gift by joining the order, in turn bringing my mother pride by association.

But, I screwed up.

I said no.

******

A few months ago, in the middle of the summer, both of my brothers were able to come through town for a single evening. The younger, now a traveling quality control representative in the health care field, hadn’t been home since Dad died ten years before, and the elder, former divisional medical director turned director/consultant for a major diagnostic laboratory, almost as long away. Both were in town to do inspections. Both lived in southern states, raising their families and working thousands of miles away.

I remember feeling ecstatic that they could both be here, at once. I only had two siblings, no sisters, and no offspring of my own, so any feeling of family I’d ever known had to come from my vicarious association with their sons and daughters’ lives. But, having them both actually here together would reunite us as brothers and sister, like when we were growing up.

We’d planned to eat at a nearby Italian restaurant. Both of them loved Italian restaurant food, both having been to Italy – the elder, several times – each of them working on the road; but, my upstairs wall HVAC unit on the fritz, they also booked hotels. They booked hotels because they also liked staying in hotels, don’t get me wrong; but, had the upstairs loft been temperature controlled, I’d have loved having them both here together for the weekend, in my home.

They arrived, entering via the shed door, and greeted each other in my music room. The elder was shorter and greyer than I’d remembered; the younger, wider. I took their picture. Moving to the kitchen, we addressed my need for construction advice on a household addition; then, we piled into the vehicle assigned to the elder, and headed to the restaurant.

For well over fifteen minutes, both of them charmed the hostess. She was most gracious. I have no idea if she needed to do other things, but she remained in conversation with them without even a hint of distraction. I, with my five year history as a hostess and waitress, was proud of her professionalism.

We’d chosen to dine outdoors on the restaurant patio. I sat in the seat closest to the dividing wall, and they sat opposite each other. Once we finally placed our orders, they continued the conversation they’d begun in the front seat of the vehicle en route the few blocks to the restaurant. I watched them, thinking about how the pandemic and age had overtaken us. I spent a lot of time sitting there thinking, before we got our food, when our food arrived, and after we were finished eating. I was able to do this, because they asked me no questions of any kind. I asked them no questions, either, principally because there was no break in the conversation the two of them were enjoying.

After probably two and a half hours, I invited them to present me with any questions they might have. My elder brother said nothing. My younger brother asked me if I had any friends here, and my answer included a reference to my students and their families as my friends – much like Mum’s customers were, to her. Then, I mentioned the elder’s former wife, with whom I’d had a reuniting phone conversation only days before after fifty years of no contact. The response to this offering was a ten minute dissertation directed at both myself and my younger brother on the woman’s character, as expressed in her past behavior.

Thus ended the dinner.

Returning me to my home was swift. We stood chatting on the sidewalk for a few minutes and, dusk settling and mosquitoes emerging, I said my goodbyes. Entering my house, I watched as the two of them stood at the curb for another half hour, talking with each other in the dark.

******

It’s true.

I’d said no to the opportunity provided me by Marlene, now CEO of a major, burgeoning health care and educational facility in the region and already-former bank president. She didn’t marry until later in life, but had a daughter who would become my piano student. Emily was 10, then, and probably hated those lessons. Maybe she never really wanted to play piano. Or, maybe she just didn’t want to slum it over to my house, on West 22nd St, hauled there every week by Aunt Lena.

No; I never accepted Marlene’s sponsorship into the Junior League of Erie. I was afraid to become an elite member of our community. I didn’t think the other girls in the League would accept me, a daughter of blue collar skilled artisans. And, I wasn’t sure I wanted to become a member of an exclusive strata of society, either.

Had I said yes, I’d have probably met and married a doctor or lawyer, raising my children on Southshore or near the Kahkwa Club. My brothers’ families and I would likely have shared holidays, each of us making sure our children spent time together. We’d have compared notes, throughout our lives, bragging on our childrens’ IQs, their grade point averages, their excellence, their ranking, their accomplishments, their spouses, our grandchildren, and how much the Lord had loved and bestowed His blessings upon us.

But, I didn’t. I married a transplanted, white collar New Englander, a man who would leave me nearly three years hence and continue his rise in the technical world of computerized software. Divorced, I would continue to work, pay off my house and car, establish a music studio, accept performance opportunities with the Union orchestras, and teach public school. My private piano students morphed into cellists, many of both the students and their parents becoming integral to my list of those still endeared to me.

Marlene’s daughter would become a litigating lawyer, and marry a local political figure; Emma would live to be nearly 101; Marlene would continue to oversee the health care facility, long beyond retirement age. And, the Junior League would breed its own, filling the coffers of the needy and establishing multiple community facilities for the arts, for education, for enrichment across the four corners of the region.

I would remain in the periphery of all these, a solitary creative, an observer of the life unfolding among those just beyond my reach. My brothers would recede into the margins of my world, feeling neither obligation nor need with respect to me.

Mum’s mark on the world she served remains. Marlene, at the time of her Betty’s blindsiding death, would stand at the casket exclaiming: “This is not. happening.” So many women would need to find somebody else to take in the seams of their garments, to let the rest out, to form the bodice, measure the hem, and fit them for the stages of the most grandly acknowledged.

From whatever league, as with my two brothers I affect their lives in absentia. Unless otherwise required, I’ll be in my music room, at home.

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Copyright 11/9/22 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in whole or part including translation, permitted. Sharing by blog link, exclusively, and that not via RSS. Thank you for respecting integrity.

littlebarefeetblog.com

Johnny.

Johnny was my idol.

Johnny Crawford. Son of RIFLEMAN.

Then, Ringo Starr. Mickey Dolenz.

And, David McCallum. To use a borrowed term: “…….Yumm.”

(Who knew why blond curls captured me, but my Kindergarten crush had so many.)

Heck, my own father – the first crooner, the first bones player…….he’d set the bar high.

How does a girl choose?

Before the hormones descend, it’s purely an aesthetic. Pretty faces. Strong bodies. Drummers. But, as the female child transforms, all her sought after features manifest on the random character in the story which tells her own……

Johnny Depp never drew me. His characters were cartooned buffoons. His skin was painted. He was masked.

By the time he showed his face, I had moved on. From 1987 through the 90s and beyond, after a five year dalliance into slumtown as a diner waitress/ pop band keyboard backup I had become a working professional, both accepting my first position in the related arts department of the school district for which I had spent my college years preparing, and taking the stage as a live musician. I was done with idol worship. There was real work to do.

Turns out, my commitment to reality vs. fantasy blew right past the two major heartthrobs of my first graduating class: Mel Gibson, and Tom Cruise. I would play catch up a decade hence, renting everything Mel ever did and writing him a screenplay which he never read because I, longtime step- skipper, attempted to bypass acquiring a literary agent by calling Ed Limato’s office on July 4th. Sharon Stone answered the phone. But, I digress.

So, my world unfolded, populated by literal men, competitive women, and hundreds of children – a gritty gruel of thrill and toil. There was hardly time to experience anything except all the forms of work that a functioning artist generates – rehearsing; performing; teaching; practicing; rinse, and repeat. A teacher by day, professional musician by night, if fantasy had fed imagination this was displaced by actuality. I had entered the realm of that about which others dream.

Perhaps because I was slave to my work, any men who entered my personal sphere saw an easy take. Never any energy left at the end of a week to protect myself from opportunists, the busier I got the less I could discern what was coming at me.

And so, the teacher became the reluctant student. I learned about what makes men seek women, why they keep them and why they discard them. I found out that relationships can be treacherous ground, best left for those who have the time at the end of a day for somebody else.

But, through my role as a public performer I developed a sense of kinship with those others glorified. I knew they were just worker bees, cloaked in familiar persona. I recognized their foibles, afflictions, and failings. And, it was this familial sensibility which drew me to Johnny Depp’s public display of one not so private life.

As captivated as the rest of the some two million, I paid keen attention to his daily, live testimony – whether on the witness stand, or seated at his doodle pad. I had, by this time, seen his dramatic roles, and respected the actor’s depth and timing. I watched his every move, training my ears to every word. His adversary also piqued my interest, as did the slew of ridicule which seemed to follow her everywhere. They each presented the selves they wished us all to see.

And, I peeled them apart.

What did I find? Johnny had ardent fans, but they mirrored what his life had become; Amber had virtually none, at least according to the media blitz. But, what Johnny revealed to me was a quiet child miserably abused, a young man with a gentle, soft heart for the mistreated, and a soul so tortured that benumbing it seemed the only act worth taking on his own behalf. Furthermore, he’d evolved as the commodity of those who saw in him what he’d never recognized in himself. His whole life had unfolded almost entirely outside of his own design.

As creative polymath, he set aside the artistic gifts he naturally possessed in favor of living out characters which seemed attached to an increasing number of external players – agents; producers; directors; writers; casting departments. And, as if to balance that precarious scale, he’d taken to gathering his trusted friends close and handing them extravagance on a silver platter. His indulgences escalated. Ultimately, his ill fated convergence with Amber the tipping point, Johnny’s life was now unmanageable.

The video and audio testimony convinced me of that about which I was very familiar; Johnny was a nearly lifelong substance addict. Many such unfortunates had been in and out of my life. And, Johnny was given to binging, these episodes likely producing periods of amnesia. If he testified to an action, his confession was only as good as his memory of the event.

Regardless the jury verdict, Johnny is still caught in a delicate situation. Were he to admit to the possibility of physically abusing his partner, acknowledging what he might not remember as potential fact, this would vindicate him as a man. But, his heart might not let him. He likely cares too much about those who, for decades, have come to both own him and depend upon him for their livelihood. Coming clean would, ironically, only serve him; by contrast, doing so could leave those he loves as well as his dependents bereft.

Some may also say that “wife beater” is a label to doom any career. I don’t disagree. All labels diminish, reducing every story to its most common denominator. The same is true of “Sexiest Man Alive”; one can neither top nor bottom out from under either. In this case, domestic abuse was proven in court, on both sides of the argument. It’s possible restoring honor is important to some, but for those too humble to crave it the point is moot.

I won’t idolize you, Johnny Depp.

I could forgive you, but you’d have to confess.

And, who among us would remove our mask, first?

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Copyright 6/10/22 Ruth Ann Scanzillo littlebarefeetblog.com All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. No copying, in whole or part including translation, permitted. Sharing by direct blog link, exclusively; no RSSING. Thank you for respecting the writer’s honor, however craven.