January 2008 Archives

The Xenaverse is a Movable Feast

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The crowd convenes outside the RoxyThis past Friday, the Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend and I waited for hours in the cold along with an astoundingly international crowd to see Lucy Lawless perform at the Roxy in West Hollywood. Then, on Saturday, we rolled out of bed and did it again--this time in the pouring rain.

With a sturdy umbrella to shield us, the Girlfriend and I enjoyed the lively company of our fellow Xena fans as we waited to be let in to the club. I can't remember precisely the last time I had to wait for hours outside in torrential rain--I think it may have been a muddy Lilith Fair in Scranton, PA--but I'm sure this was the most fun I've ever had doing so.

Cat Crimmins is mighty cuteIn the weeks leading up to the concert Lucy had stated she would be performing country music and called for people to show up in country and western clothing. Cat Crimmins, the evening's MC, gamely arrived on stage looking like she had raided Jack Palance's wardrobe. In the year since she appeared as Lucy's MC at the 2007 Roxy show, Cat has launched a standup career and has appeared at various venues around Los Angeles.

For this event, Cat drew on her history as a fan to serve up some Xena- and BSG-based humor, which was warmly received by the crowd. The Internet has revealed the deep and passionate feelings people have for series TV, so it seems entirely natural to me that comics and other performers should be born out of TV fandom. Of course, Cat does non-TV-based humor as well. In any case, based on what I heard the gals in line saying about Cat "Easy on the Eyes" Crimmins, I'd say she's a rising star in the Xenaverse.

Tig Nataro kidding on stageTig Nataro came back to do her standup routine and, as I've said before, she's fearless and effing brilliant. Tig also adhered to a country costume, wearing a chambray shirt with embroidered flowers across the yoke one night and an Ellie May Clampett styled check shirt the next. As usual, Tig was amazingly deft at improvising with the audience and had us gasping for breath between laughs.

Finally, Lucy took the stage, opening with "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" which transitioned into "Heartache Tonight." The country theme was evident in Lucy's outfit, which included low-waisted, poured-on dungarees, a white short-sleeved shirt, a wide belt with a buckle representing a Maori carving, patent leather heels and 70s retro jewelry. On the next night, the shirt changed to brown and the jeans became silver-spangled chaps. The living, breathing, ever-morphing entity known as Lucy's hair was coiffed in a hairstyle I call "early dinette."

Lucy plays with the audienceMost of Lucy's song choices throughout the evening were in an "Americana" vein and were meant to reflect the cycle of feelings one experiences in love, from agony to disillusionment to joy. These included well-known hit songs like "A Love Song," "Winner at a Losing Game," "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" and "Kiss You All Over."

There were two women in Lucy's band this time around, a violinist and a bassist. Overall, the music was much mellower than in the past, creating an intimate mood. Although Lucy's energy onstage was lessened, she was able to offer more direct eye contact with the audience than at previous concerts. This also enabled her to infuse certain songs with a more dramatic or narrative element.

The best example of this in my opinion was Lucy's haunting rendition of "Superstar." When I read, in advance of the concert, that Lucy was going to be performing this song, I wondered if her version would veer closer to the Carpenters' tune or to Sonic Youth's inspired cover. I also wondered how she was going to make it through the lyric "What to say / to make you come again" without dissolving in laughter.

As it turns out, laughing was not an issue. Lucy's skills as an actor and singer turned the song into a devastating tearjerker. I was embarrassed to find my mouth twitching as I repeated over and over in my head, "You are NOT going to cry at a Carpenter's song. You are NOT." Then I realized about three or four people around me were crying. I mean outright bawling. It was terrifying in a way. I'm going to assume Michael Orland was responsible for the song's arrangement; dude: Respect.

Lucy also excelled on Tuck & Patti's song, Wide Awake, which she performed as part of her encore. She performed an original song called "New and Beautiful" and a song she recorded as part of a forthcoming soundtrack, called "Beautiful Mistake." Rounding out the evening were "Walkin' After Midnight," "Sweetheart" and "Wonderful."

Fans with Lucy and MarissaTwo interludes broke up the music and provided an opportunity for fan participation. The first was a Lucy trivia game called "Friends versus Fans: Who Loves Me More?" that pitted Lucy's best friend, Marissa Jaret Winokur, against a fan chosen from the audience. Marissa also wore a countryish outfit, half Oklahoma! cast member and half Marianne from Gilligan's Island.

I imagine that if I were a celebrity, this would be a fun entertainment to stage. As a fan, I felt a bit sorry for Marissa, as she was obviously about to be trounced. I mean, Marissa's a busy celebrity herself, and probably has her own flock of fans she needs to herd and tend and feed and so on. But if you're just an ordinary schmoe like myself, what else do I really have to do all day but obsess over details of Lucy's past and present?

Souvenir sign that reads YentlI was certain this was going to be no contest, and that's exactly what it was. I'm proud to say it was my own Cute Little Red-Headed Girlfriend who contributed the correct "lifeline" answer of Yentl to the question, "What does Lucy think is the greatest movie ever made?"

The second interlude was a joke advice/Q&A session between Lucy and Renee O'Connor, using questions supposedly submitted by the fans. The first night was "Dear Gabby" and the second night was "Ask Xena," with Lucy and Renee taking turns as the one asking or answering.

The verbal exchange between Lucy and Renee followed one of the highlights of the evening, Renee's appearance on stage to sing "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" with Lucy. Renee's voice was clear and sweet--or at least what could be heard of it over the screaming of the fans.

Renee croons onstage
On Saturday night Renee sashayed across the stage in a witchy Stevie Nicks-type outfit, which included heeled lace-up high boots and a fringed purple dress. The effect it had was kind of like when you see a long tunnel and at the end there's this white light and you look around and you go, "Oh, I must be in heaven now," and then you go back into your body and you realize that you didn't die, you were just smushed against the stage awful tight there for a moment and look, there's Renee again.

Renee has this gentle groove thing she does with her shoulders onstage, gyrating them forward and down that makes you think, sweet baby Jesus, this woman is trying to ruin me. It's just a lot for any lesbian to bear. And it's only going to get worse, now that we know, via Katherine Fugate, that Renee will be appearing on Army Wives in the future, apparently in a lesbian role.

One woman in the audience lost restraint and threw her panties on stage at Lucy. When Renee came on stage Friday night, she casually picked up the fan's panties and stuffed them down the back of her black leather pants. I leave you with that image, below.

Renee stuffs her pants

Special thanks to Sharon Delaney of Creation Entertainment for her assistance in fleshing out Lucy's song list.

U Can Has Concert Report La8r

Renee holds a red featherTo those of you who've been checking this site regularly the past few days wondering if I'm going to be posting about the Burbank 2008 Xena Convention or the 2008 Lucy Lawless at the Roxy concert, the answer is yes, I will. However, I'm feeling less than stellar this week (for reasons I won't bother you with here), and as a result, I won't be doing the battery of pre-event posts that I've done in the past. You can expect my usual concert report with photos later this weekend.

In the meantime, here are some good Xena-related links to kill time with:

  • My fellow AfterEllen.com scribe Christie Keith is live-blogging the convention. So that her site doesn't get creamed by the Xenite hordes, Christie's posting her updates at AfterEllen.com instead of her personal blog. But I notice she's posted a few Xena tidbits over at her personal site, Dogged Blog, as well. Hope you upgraded your server, Christie.

  • There's some great pictures from the totally righteous Xena Fan Support Day on the WGA picket line at MaryD's site, Twink's site and LAist.com.

  • Because it had to happen sometime: LOLxena. I found this site via XenaCast. You can see I've made my own LOLrenee picture for this post. If you're a fan of the LOL phenomena, the LOLxena site also has a lengthy blogroll of LOL sites. I especially enjoyed the blog on LOLchaucer, which also featured lengthy posts on topics ranging from Britney Spears ("STOP YOUR SCLAUNDRES OF BRITNEY!") to Brokeback Mountain ("I WOLDE I KNEWE HOW OF THEE I MIGHT BE QUITTEN!"). You kind of need to know some Middle English to appreciate it. However, I feel confident that there's some degree of overlap among Xena fans, lulzspeakers and Middle English buffs.

Pulp Sculpt

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Women holding martinisVia Cool Hunting, I found a link to a gallery of work by Thomas Allen, who photographs sculptural objects that the artist himself makes out of old pulp novels.

If you're a fan of the pulp genre, you'll find the usual topics represented in Allen's photos: women, alcohol, boxing, sailors, and so on. I liked this picture of a girls-and-horses title, and the image I've included here, of a woman with a knowing stare.

Does the Pope read Ex Machina?

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The Mayor undergoes exorcismSpecifically, has the Pope read Ex Machina numbers 32 and 33? I wonder, because the very day after I had put down issue #33, in which the man-machine hybrid Mayor Hundred undergoes a forced exorcism by the Pope, I read the news that Pope Palpatine--or whatever his name is--will be introducing new "exorcism squads" to fight the rise of godlessness and the occult.

This "Say No to Satan" campaign will be led by the Chief Exorcist of Rome, Fr. Gabriele Amorth. It's too bad that the AMPTP is allowing the writers' strike to drag on; I think these exorcism squads could be the subject of a S.W.A.T.-style drama, with special guest targets like Christopher Hitchens and J.K. Rowling.

Perhaps the timing of Ex Machina's storyline and the Pope's announcement was just synchronicity (a godless concept, I'm sure), since I just encountered an instance of exorcism in the novel I'm currently reading as well. The novel, Trance by Christopher Sorrentino, is set in the 70s and includes a passing reference to the bestselling book, The Exorcist, which it describes as being about authority figures trying to change a young girl's personality.

I mention this third instance of exorcism because it dates from a time period, the early 70s, that has many interesting similarities to the current period in U.S. culture and politics. Why is this significant? Well, as Fr. Gabriele Amorth states in an excerpt from his book, An Exorcist Tells His Story, there are times in history that are more oppressed by Satan. I find it fascinating that Amorth points to another period often compared to our own, the period of Rome's decline:

Even if this battle against Satan concerns all men and all times, there is no doubt that Satan's power is felt more keenly in periods of history when the sinfulness of the community is more evident. For example, when I view the decadence of the Roman Empire, I can see the moral disintegration of that period in history.

Amorth sees "decadence" as the point of connection between today and the end of the Roman empire. I'm sure he'd find the early 70s, once dubbed the "me decade" for its individualistic (or narcissistic) concern with human potential, were morally decadent, although Amorth is quite approving of both the book and movie versions of The Exorcist, artifacts of that era. So there is one conservative interpretation of a connecting thread between these three periods.

One doesn't have to stretch to see political connections between the 70s in the U.S., the U.S. present, and the late Roman empire. The continuing debate over presidential impeachment, the comparisons between Nixon's and Bush's approval ratings, and the presence of former Nixon administration officials within the Bush White House make that part of the equation a no-brainer.

The last several years have seen a profusion of dramas and documentaries about the rise and fall of Rome in which comparison to the present is implicit. The HBO series Rome, which recently covered this subject matter, took its inspiration from the famous 70s series, I, Claudius. One of the most pointed documentaries I have seen linking the Roman empire to present day designs on empire is the four-part BBC series billed as "an alternative history of Rome," Terry Jones' Barbarians.

A mashup of these three periods in history results in quite a vision of the powerful under pressure: Pope Benedict XVI herding the diminishing faithful under increasingly authoritarian doctrines; the Romans deploying their army and an arsenal of rarefied torture techniques to subjugate the far-flung nations and peoples under their rule; Nixon's stonewalling under the scrutiny of the press; U.S. neoconservatives' brute use of propaganda to deflect and contain criticism.

But now let's turn away from the powerful and towards the voice that must be silenced, exorcised, disciplined, or reprogrammed. There's Regan, of course, the possessed girl of the Exorcist. Women often stand in for the demonic in patriarchal religions; she is a demon's most conducive host. (And a casting natural: women played the role of the devil in the Catholic horror films The Exorcist and in The Passion of the Christ.)

But more importantly, women are the voice of hysteria, and it is their image in popular culture that the voice of society's hysteria can be heard. Women like Linda Blair's character, Regan, who are seized and possessed by the public. Women who are, to be sure, interesting in their own right, but become sensations for their ability to stage the public's fear and anger, to vomit the culture's resentment and loathing into the face of unjust power and authority.

There are other women in 70s popular culture who serve as vehicles for public hysteria: kidnapped and converted Patty Hearst, whose free will became a national obsession; abused Sybil, whose shockingly multiple personalities seemed to mirror the emergence of variant and controversial lifestyles existing outside the confines of the traditional and fragmenting family unit.

Rome in its decline had many female virgin martyrs--thousands, according to legend--whose crimes of declaration inspired many creative applications of torture. Today, we have Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, celebrities whose main role appears to be acting out the culture's embrace of and revulsion towards material excess. It is a cycle of hysteria that, like Regan's head, spins round to look you right in the eye.

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