Poets & songwriters & a holiday love-in

Last night was a double pleasure – for the art and for the company. First up was The Beautiful & The Damned (TB&TD) at Glad Day Bookshop, where a gang of my best pals (Liz, Lizzie, Kat, Janis and Kira) and I gathered to catch the first set before continuing our evening’s cultural festivities.

The December edition of TB&TD was Star Wars night, with props to dead celeb Sir Alec Guinness. Host Duncan Armstrong started the evening off with his poem “Guilt,” funny and insightful youthful reminiscences of a father’s jacket and stealing away to the closet – my favourite line “grow much too quickly into adulthood.”

Open mic performers included author/poet Adam Abbas, who read his piece “Excess,” words and rhymes tripping from the page and out of his mouth with Dr. Seuss-like playfulness. Singer/songwriter Kat Leonard treated us to a new song, a fun – and decidedly dirty, but in a good way – ode to Santa and his big, bulging sack. Duncan followed this up with his own raunchy ode to holiday time, with his poem “Santa Daddy” – a fun and sexy romp.

Feature performer Melissa Benner finished off the first set, reading a selection of her poems. “Small Town Straight,” a place where gays are beat up or forced into covert ops disguise, and later dream of throwing a Pride parade before setting the town alight in flaming retribution. Then the love poems: “Tom Boy,” a beautiful love poem to a boyish woman, a woman she was and now loves, and “Bloodstream,” about a boy she once loved, attraction starting innocently with a date in a church and coming to a boiling point, senses coming alive with touch. “Letter to My First Love” is a love poem to the farm landscape of family and childhood – which Benner said she read to the fields one day – the heartache of a love lost, of a place that will never be the same. Moving on to the loss of a loved one, the wife of a dear friend – chosen family – caring and healing with food in “Cooking.” And, lastly “Call For Beauty,” an ode to the love of words, sparked by a Leonard Cohen haiku – touching off memories, words painting the landscape of a beloved place, again the farm, and “one white lawn chair sits regal in the middle” of a field. Benner has a lovely, lyrical way with words – sensuous, romantic, evocative and sexy – and delivers them with genuine emotion, humour and love of her subject.

The next edition of The Beautiful and The Damned will be on Thursday, January 10 – with host Philip Cairns.

Then, Lizzie, Kat, Janis and I walked to the Free Times Café for a night of music with the Songwriters Circle of Jerks. This was their third event, and the Jerks are Nelson Sobral (Melting Pot), Hugh Wilson and Nick Verona (Big Name Actors), and David Hustler (David Hustler and The Trustworthy).

Four guys. Four acoustic guitars. Four mics. One set of antlers. One Star of David. This edition of Jerks had a whimsical, holiday feel to it – and there were Santa jars of candy on every table. The guys started with an amazing round robin set – from Sobral’s blues-infused rock, with growling vocals and driving guitar, to Wilson’s soft rock ballad with smooth vocals countering the forceful chords on a Big Name Actors original tune, Verona (the “awkward” one) serving up powerful sounds on a rock-driven ballad with his 12-string that’s got two strings missing, and Hustler’s melodious and funny-‘cuz-it’s-true “Six Pints In.” I think the holiday song round was my favourite, though, partly because the guys donned holiday headgear and also for the new twists well-known Christmas songs: Sobral’s “Jingle Bell Rock” and Hustler’s “We Three Kings” rawked out, while Wilson’s “Christmas Time is Here” (from A Charlie Brown Christmas) was melancholy and bluesy, and Verona’s “White Christmas” started quiet in the lower register, shifting into a more longing and earnest sound in the higher register.

Guest performers Red Falcon White Lightning gave us an all-original set, with acoustic guitar and bass, featuring some driving rhythms and sweet harmonies, all with a roots/power/pop rock flavour. Brought Blue Rodeo to mind, actually. And I loved the double-barreled harp tune.

Poets & songwriters 003
Duncan Armstrong
Poets & songwriters 004
Melissa Benner
Poets & songwriters 007
Nelson Sobral
Poets & songwriters 008
David Hustler
Poets & songwriters 011
Red Falcon White Lightning
Poets & songwriters 001
Adam Abbas
Poets & songwriters 002
Kat Leonard
Songwriters Circle of Jerks Dec 2012
Nelson Sobral, Hugh Wilson, Nick Verona with David Hustler in the foreground

The next Songwriters Circle of Jerks event is Thursday, January 3, when the guys will be covering each other’s songs. And get ready for the boys breaking hearts and stealing your girlfriend in February. All in the back room at Free Times Café.

Big, big fun and a whole lotta love.

Some December happenings

While I’m taking a bit of a break after all the recent theatre-going and set work, thought I’d shout out some ongoing and upcoming December fun.

Red Sandcastle Theatre is cooking with music, comedy, drama and holiday fun all month long! Check out their website to see what A.D./actor Rosemary Doyle (who’s appearing in Escape From Happiness till Dec 17) has happening for December.

Alexander Showcase Theatre (formerly the Alexander Players and Singers) remounts their 1940s radio play version of It’s A Wonderful Life for a very short run, from Thursday, December 6 (that’s tonight, folks) to Saturday, December 8 – please note the early curtain time of 7:30 p.m. – at the Papermill Theatre.

The December edition of The Beautiful and the Damned poetry cabaret is coming up next week, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 13 upstairs at Glad Day Bookshop. Hosted by Duncan Armstrong, and featuring Rocco di Giacomo, Melissa Benner and Ameoba Starfish, plus open mic performers.

Songwriters Circle of Jerks – featuring the amazing sounds of Melting Pot, Big Name Actors, Nick Verona and David Hustler, and maybe even a guest or two – at Free Times Café, also on Thursday, December 13 – 8 p.m. in the back room.

Set Those Sails – A Night of William Finn with new arrangements by Tara Litvak on Friday, December 14 at the Tranzac Club (292 Brunswick Ave., Toronto) at 7:30 p.m.

Animator/filmmaker/artist Patrick Jenkins and photographer Pamela Williams are both going to be appearing at a Goth Bazaar (918 Bathurst St., Toronto) on Saturday, December 15 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Plasticine Poetry – poetry and spoken word at Pauper’s Pub on Sunday, December 16 at 6 p.m. – featuring David Clink, Lisa de Nikolits, Cathy Petch and Lizzie Violet.

Singer/songwriter Craig Stickland plays at The Drake Hotel on Tuesday, December 18 – 9 p.m. $10 cover or $5 with a non-perishable item.

The Beautiful & the Damned – the Day of the Dead edition

Last night’s edition of The Beautiful and the Damned was dedicated to the Day of the Dead, with featured dead celeb Frida Kahlo – hosted by the lovely and talented Lizzie Violet, who introduced the evening’s features and open mic artists, as well as exercising our minds with trivia about Kahlo. The Art Gallery of Ontario has an upcoming exhibit of Kahlo and Rivera’s work, opening October 20: http://www.ago.net/frida-diego-passion-politics-and-painting

Philip Cairns: hilarious poems about friends – quirky, loved, neurotic, former fuckbuddy, male, female, depressive, bipolar, a love of ugly Fendi bags and a nod to Gordon Pinsent.

Mark Martyre: usually a musician, read some poetry – internal, reflective, self-deprecating even, bravely breaking out of his comfort zone.

Devin Edwards: existential flow of consciousness poetry, at times erotic, sensuous, everyday intimacy – “the heat of a toilet seat” – and a sonnet of loss, love and pain.

Host Lizzie Violet read her piece “Corpse Flower” – Louisiana bayou vampire slayer child, once thought to have murdered her parents becomes the local savior against the Nosferati that hunt her town. Saving the townspeople is incidental to exacting vengeance for her parents’ deaths. Later, reading “Chaos among the Ruins,” one of a series of zombie-themed poems – a pursued woman, hidden in the shell of a building, watches the creatures outside. Horrific, agonizing memories of the child she couldn’t save from them even as she saved herself. Until she walks out from her hiding place…

Feature performer, poet Duncan Armstrong: Dark, funny, visceral and sensuous pieces. Darkly funny titles; Stratford road trip, an eerie but intimate ode to the colour of eyes becoming a study of the red of sherry, blood, bruises; mysterious bite marks; the fate of a sugar maple reflecting the fall of a marriage; cell phone found on the subway ringing in a sob-filled phone call; slam style rhythmic, fast-paced, moving; Robert Johnson-inspired blues, selling one’s soul to the devil “Everything to live for and nothing to lose;” the mystery of vampires looking so good, yet casting no reflection; “Full Moon” regarding the fate of children entering a haunted house and never seen again.

Brandon Pitts: metaphysical, Mesopotamian, existential, erotic piece – sexual, religious, sacred and profane. Profane in the sacred.

Melissa Benner: spoken word piece “Out” to acknowledge National Coming Out Day – love at first sight among the bok choi at the grocery store; sexy, honest, sweet, real. Sexual fluidity, attraction goes its way.

Tom Smarda: poetry and music – political, social, lyrical, passionate, activism in art. A folk balladeer with a heartfelt protest song – a mother’s loss of her son to the war.

Feature Monica Kuebler: reading from her web story Bleeder – Chapter 6. First-person narrative finding our heroine, who may or may not be human, in the clutches of vampires, brought before the vampire king. Struggling, injured, fighting to keep her head together. Uncertain of her fate. http://www.bleederbook.com/?tag=monica-s-kuebler

Stedmond Pardy – reading/performing “Ode to Liza Minnelli” – moving with the rhythm of the words, celebrity religion, ode, love, obsession, masturbatory glee. “You have no fucking equal. To you dear there could never be a sequel.”

Lucille Barker – powerful words coming from such a small frame; poems about death, dead women poets, wry political commentary.

Feature L’Rock brought a rockin’ acoustic set, offering a sample of tunes from her Law of Attraction CD. Rawkin’ drivin’ vocals that would make Annie Wilson proud. Passionate, free-spirited tunes – the title track was my fave. Accompanied by Nik Beat on guitar and Michael Ratt on bass. http://www.lrockmusic.com/

Another fabulous evening of music, poetry and spoken word upstairs at the Glad Day Bookshop, where I also picked up a copy of Born This Way – Real Stories of Growing Up Gay, a selection of childhood photographs and coming out stories from the blog of the same name, created by Paul Vitagliano.  Here’s the link to the blog site: http://borngaybornthisway.blogspot.ca/

All in all, an incredible, inspiring way to spend the evening on National Coming Out Day.

Lucille Barker
Stedmond Pardy
Monica Kuebler
Tom Smarda
Melissa Benner
Brandon Pitts
Duncan Armstrong
Devin Edwards
Mark Martyre
Philip Cairns
Lizzie Violet
L’Rock