When you come from the New York area, you grow up learning a certain disdain of tourists. So it was distinctly weird to be staying in a hotel in the city for an honest-to-god vacation. It really hadn’t sunk in for me that we’d be playing tourist in what was, really, kind of our hometown. Well, mine anyway. But there we were, like something from a Christmas movie, waltzing in and out of a lavishly decorated lobby on our way to and from leisure activities like seeing the tree and the windows at Macy’s.
The tree. You all know about “the tree”? Every year they cut down a huge pine tree somewhere, three or four stories tall, and set it up in Rockefeller Center and decorate it with lights. This is the tree that Sarah Rogue had wanted to be photographed holding my hand in front of. Going to see the tree was a regular tradition of sorts for my family back when we still did things as a family. What’s odd about it is that it’s just this tree, you know? It’s just a really big Christmas tree. It doesn’t really look different from year to year. You’d think once you’d seen it, you wouldn’t necessarily need to see it again.
But lots of people make a yearly pilgrimage to see it. It’s just A Thing To Do. Even if you’re a New Yorker and trying to act like you’re not a tourist.
I said something like this to Courtney while we were standing in a throng looking at it. “It’s just a big tree, you know? Why is it such a big deal?”
“I think it’s excellent,” she said with a grin. “World’s biggest pagan symbol.”
“Christmas trees and wreaths? Oh yeah. It’s a whole pagan thing.”
That made me feel a lot more charitable toward the tree.
A large number of us also went to see a Broadway show. The debate around the table at lunch one day in the hotel restaurant went something like this:
“Well, the show that is getting the best reviews is this new one, City of Angels,” Remo said, doing that patriarch thing of talking while reading the paper and drinking coffee.
“No, no, Gypsy,” said Alan. “Tyne Daly was born for this role.”
“Eh, I heard her singing is kind of inconsistent,” his brother said.
“Inconsistent incon-shmistent.” Alan waved his hand. “It’s the winner this season.”
“You know what show isn’t doing so hot?” Martin said, while spreading jam on a piece of toast. “Threepenny Opera.”
“Oh, is that the one Sting is in?” I asked, snagging a piece of toast. We were done eating, but someone had gotten a pile of toast with whatever they had ordered and hadn’t eaten it and Martin and I were good at being sure nothing went to waste.
“Yup,” Martin said, taking a vicious bite and then licking his lips. “Sting finally proves he can fail.”
“Eh. Maybe it was just a matter of time before the critics shredded him for something,” Remo said with a shrug.
“Could we see Phantom of the Opera? Or Cats?” Courtney asked.
She was unprepared for the universal derision from all quarters toward all things Andrew Lloyd Weber. I didn’t even have to say anything, because everyone else there said it for me. I’m sure you’ve heard the criticisms of Weber’s music: formulaic, cliche-ridden, overly bombastic, plus he rips off Brahms. Honestly, thinking back on it now, though, isn’t that basically what a Broadway musical is supposed to be? Opera for the people? If so, what were we complaining about exactly? Maybe it’s that same mentality. Weber was for tourists. People who knew music, knew better.
A couple other musicals and a few plays were discussed, too. Then Remo put down the paper. “I don’t know what you all are debating,” he said. “I bought tickets for City of Angels already.”
“Well, why didn’t you say that in the beginning?” Alan threw a balled up napkin in Remo’s direction.
“I was going to but I couldn’t get a word in edgewise on the Broadway Critics Circle here,” Remo said drily.
So we went to see City of Angels. It was a comedy that had a kind of meta-story, a kind of noir mystery plot but then also the making of a movie about it? Something like that? I walked out feeling like it had been nice to sit in the dark and watch other people perform for a change, but I was pretty much unmoved. How much was that I really wasn’t into Broadway musicals, how much was I couldn’t just sit and take in a show without thinking about everything that went into putting it on, and how much was that Andrew Lloyd Weber was right? It takes some simplistic bombast to make your heart soar or break?
I said as much to Jordan a couple nights later. He came over to hang out at the hotel, where we had a steady stream of people in and out the whole week. Family, friends, industry-friends, et cetera. We were sitting in the suite, drinking, at the time.
“Well of course,” Jordan said, when I tried on my Weber epiphany for size. “You remember what you told me about your lyric writing process?”
I thought it over. “No. What did I tell you?”
“You said you sometimes write the words out in idea form, i.e. the concept for the sentence or the image or whatever, and then you go back through and replace all the multi-syllable words with single- or at least fewer-syllable words.”
“Oh. Yeah. I do, but kind of because you can do more with shorter words, be more flexible with them.”
“And they have more impact.”
“Like that one. You could have said ‘exactly.’ But you didn’t.”
“It’s a great knack, actually. English has so many levels, so many flavors: you get it right down to the bone.”
“Hear what you just said?” I sat up straighter on the couch. “‘Right down to the bone.’ That’s a great example of it.”
Jordan swirled his beer around in the bottle. “True.” We clinked our bottles together.
Christian came in then and got himself a bottle of water and sat down next to me. “How’s it hangin’?”
“Loose as a goose,” I said. “How about you?”
“Glad I made it. For a while there I thought I wasn’t going to make it out of Massachusetts.”
“No no, just my family being crazy.”
“Yeah. Nothing new, really. My father’s sister keeps trying to get him and my mother back together.”
“Like it’s any of her business?”
“Does that keep your sister out of your business? No.”
“Point. But this would be your abusive father and the woman he battered, right?”
“Right. But my aunt’s convinced that my mom is good for him, and she’s more loyal to her own blood than to a fellow woman. Which leaves me the only one defending my mom, sometimes.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Chris took a sip of his water and sighed. “Tell me something cheery.”
“Did I tell you what the lawyer said?”
“This is going to be cheery?”
“Feinbaum said it’s a bluff and I should not stress about it.”
“Okay, but what about the fact no one’s got any money yet?”
“That is somewhat concerning. But at least let’s not freak out over a lawsuit. Sorry, that’s as cheery as I got.”
Chris shook his head slowly. “Well, good thing we agreed not to exchange gifts this year.”
“Can I say something corny? Every day you’re sober and clean and alive here with us with all your limbs intact is a gift. Okay?”
Chris laughed a little and hugged me as he said, “Ah, fuck you,” because I kind of almost made him cry a little bit with that.
Simplistic bombast, huh? Lesson learned.
(As Daron reminded me in the comments for last post, it’s about to be 1991 in the story. Anyone got favorite songs from 1991? List them below! They might get turned into chapter titles! And don’t forget to add yourselves to the Thunderclap campaign please please please here: http://thndr.it/1G7l4bZ -ctan)