Tuesday, July 31, 2012

COLUMN: Xanadu

My friends have been telling me for years that I take on too many projects in life. At any given time in my life, I'm usually balancing between one and three extra "hobby" projects -- and that's in addition to my two jobs AND this weekly column. I'd like to say I do it because of my ambition and work ethic, but that's not the case.

No, my motivator for extra projects is usually jealousy. At some point, I'll go somewhere and witness someone doing something relatively cool. Then I'll witness that person receiving accolades for said task. THAT'S when the little voice in my brain says, to paraphrase:

"Hey, nimrod. You could do that, too, if you set your mind to it. In fact, you probably could do it better. And you know what will happen when you do it better? People will love you MORE than that other guy." Shallow as heck? You betcha -- but for a lazy oaf like me, I'll take ANY kind of motivation.

Of course, many of these projects never get revealed to the rest of the world and never see completion. I'll catch a musical on TV, and there'll be the voice: "You could write a musical." And then, despite the fact that I can't play a note of music or carry a tune on my own, I'll sit around for the next week trying to hum my way to greatness. It never works, but I'll never stop trying.

At the moment, I've been obsessing about two projects that I CAN pull off.

Project No. 1 was a must-complete. About a year and a half ago, one of my best friends packed up and moved to Japan. He told everyone at the time it was because he wanted to challenge himself and explore his love for Asian culture. I secretly suspected it was because he wanted to explore his love for hot Asian girls. Well, he explored one (although the fact is that she's actually from Brazil -- long story), and then he MARRIED her -- and proceeded to make a series of international calls with the sole purpose of guilting me into flying out there for his wedding reception.

Now, my hatred of air travel is known far and wide, but even MORE problematic was the fact that I didn't have $2,000, which was the price of the cheapest flight I could even find -- and that came complete with a half-day layover in Nowheresville, Saskatchewan. So no Japanacation for me.

Instead, I set up all my DJ gear in my basement, recorded a few hours of mixes straight to mp3, and thanks to the mighty power of the internet, I DJ-ed his wedding reception from half a world away. It was the next best thing to actually being there, PLUS I now can brag that in one weekend, I had gigs in East Davenport AND Nagoya. Awesomesauce.

Project No, 2 has been a bit more involved. The District Theatre is, as you're reading this, in the midst of their production of the stage musical version of "Xanadu." Originally conceived as a romantic-fantasy vehicle for Olivia Newton-John, the movie version of "Xanadu" is a living testament to the tacky excesses of 1980, and it pretty much single-handedly sounded the death knell for the disco era. SO bad it was, in fact, that the annual Golden Raspberry Awards were created that year for the sole purpose of publically declaring the awfulness of "Xanadu."

Naturally, it's one of my favorite movies of all time.

And now there's a stage-play version that lampoons and celebrates the kitsch of the original. It is a party unto itself, and when I found out the District Theatre was putting it on this month, I knew I had to be involved. That's why I got ahold of DT founder Tristan Tapscott and offered to handle the music for the preshow and intermission.

Instead of seeing my column last Sunday, you might have caught the words "Shane Brown is on vacation this week." A more apt description would have been, "Shane Brown would really like to write a column this week. Instead he's in his basement, buried up to his armpits in disco records. Don't ask."

I know this isn't going to do much for my coolness or machismo, but hear me, Quad-Cities: Disco music got a bad rap. In the grand pantheon of popular music, disco will forever be the doormat, filed somewhere in cultural relevance between boy bands and hair metal.

But I say disco should be celebrated. In its heyday, I was 9-10 years old. It was the first time I started paying attention to the radio, the first time my mom let me buy records, and the first time I really started liking music. Dare I say it? I might not have become the music geek I am today were it not for the Village People.

Disco has shocking staying power, too. When you listen to the pop of the '80s these days, it sounds like antique music. Most of this can be blamed on the tink-tink-tink sounds of primitive drum machines powered by computers that could barely handle Pac-Man. But when it comes to disco, there's no tink-tink-tink. KC had a Sunshine BAND, and Kool had a GANG. Those were real instruments, and they sound like real instruments today.

Disco music was POSITIVE. I'm sick of turning on the radio and listening to whiny long-hairs get angsty about their suburban lives. Where's the joy? Disco music had JOY. Granted, it was likely joy fueled by cocaine orgies, but joy nonetheless. They were stayin' alive; they were family; they will survive; and that's the way (uh huh, uh huh) they liked it. Nothing bad ever happened in a disco song, unless you count the time that Donna Summer left a cake out in the rain (bummer).

I'm pretty sure I know the REAL reason why disco died: the dancing. The songs might have been boss, but the moves were RIDICULOUS. Did a time really exist when people watched "Saturday Night Fever" and thought Travolta was the essence of cool? Wow. (And if you think THAT'S bad, be sure to watch the awesomely awful sequel, "Staying Alive," in which a spandex-clad Travolta appears to defeat the devil with little more than his crotch.)

Disco dancing sucks, but disco itself rules. And while I probably bit off one project too many this month, I haven't had this much fun in ages.

You have two more weekends to catch "Xanadu" at the District Theatre -- and I promise you will never see a better musical involving leg warmers, roller skates, and bad Australian accents in your life. Until I write one that's better, that is.

1 comment:

Steff said...

I LOVE XANADU!!!!!! I made my teenage son (read angst machine) watch it and he even said it wasn't as bad a he thought it was going to be (read: it didn't kill him, but his eyes were threatening to fall out...) but since he survived I will take it as a win. I am so bummed I missed the show, but I was in the middle of summer master's class-hell and, oh yeah, IT WAS CRAZY STUPID HOT.

Anywho, mayhaps we need to have a Xanadu/greasy popcorn/ice cold frosty beverage night!